Police in Vryheid in KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday arrested three suspected thieves for stealing mobile tower batteries estimated to be worth more than R1.2 million.
The bust came after the police officers received intelligence about a taxi that was transporting the batteries.
“An operation was put in place and various role-players from the SAPS proceeded to Vryheid,” said Captain Nqobile Gwala. “The said vehicle was spotted travelling along R34 and it was intercepted.”
Upon searching the vehicle, eight cellphone tower batteries were recovered.
In addition, the police seized various tools typically used in house break-ins and burglaries including bolt cutters, crowbars, grinders, and five-pound hammers.
“The initial investigation conducted by the police at the scene revealed that the batteries were stolen at Nongoma earlier on the same day,” Gwala said.
The estimated street value of the recovered batteries was R1.2 million.
Three suspects between the ages of 20 and 40 were placed under arrest on charges of possession of stolen property, and the possession of house breaking implements.
The suspects are appearing before the Vryheid Magistrate’s Court today, the police stated.
Gwala added that police officers in the province were always on alert to ensure that mobile tower battery thieves were brought to book.
This incident follows the apprehension of three suspects by the Durban SAPS Search and Rescue and eThekwini Fire and Rescue in January, after they had supposedly stolen batteries from a Vodacom tower in Lookout point, Durban.
Below are images of the recovered batteries, housebreaking implements, and the minibus taxi used to transport the batteries.
The theft of mobile tower batteries has been a major headache for mobile network operators over the last few years, particularly as the prevalence of load-shedding has increased.
These backup batteries provide emergency electricity to the towers in the event of power outages, allowing them to continue operating and providing communications services to customers.
Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy previously told MyBroadband that the operator had observed multiple incidents of break-ins at Vodacom’s base stations on a daily basis.
“It is estimated that local cellphone network providers lose hundreds of millions of rand’s worth of damage to their base stations annually as a result of theft and vandalism which ultimately impacts the cost of mobile services,” Kennedy stated.
As a result, mobile networks have had to spend more on security and anti-theft measures.
For example, Vodacom has used a combination of epoxy and glass around a battery’s housing to make it more difficult to remove.
It has also tried cementing batteries in, creating vaults, and other solutions such as geo-locking batteries and using lithium-ion batteries over lead batteries.
MTN, meanwhile, has used steel cages, batteries covered in cement, and “bunkers” to store batteries in.
Below are photos of some of the anti-theft solutions employed by Vodacom and MTN.