South Africa’s COVID-19 response has comprised a nationwide lockdown which saw many sectors of the economy close down.
As the COVID-19 alert level lowers and restrictions are lifted, a number of these sectors have started to come back online and the economy has begun the process of slowly recovering from the enforced shutdown.
The damage to local businesses has not only been financial, however, as looting, crime, and vandalism has been rampant throughout the lockdown period.
Speaking at a briefing on 19 May, Department of Basic Education (DBE) Minister Angie Motshekga said the number of schools which have been targeted by criminals during the lockdown continues to increase.
Motshekga said that as many as 1,577 schools have been vandalized, burnt, and robbed countrywide over the lockdown period – with the majority of affected institutions in KwaZulu-Natal.
“This is a real setback,” the minister said.
When examined over the 54 days of lockdown which had passed at the time Motshekga made her statement, this means that, on average, 24 South African schools are vandalized, burnt, or robbed on a daily basis.
Mobile network operators have also been forced to combat a continuous barrage of battery theft and vandalism on their cellphone towers.
Vodacom recently said its network was affected by an average of 600 incidents of theft or damage per month.
This means that every day in South Africa, an average of 20 Vodacom cellphone towers are vandalized or broken into. This would be in addition to similar incidents suffered by other mobile operators.
The pervasive problem of school looting in South Africa has greatly hindered efforts to reopen the education sector.
Items stolen from schools include food parcels meant for distribution to learners.
Since March, Gauteng police have arrested 130 suspects for the burglary, vandalism, and torching of schools.
“Several items taken from the schools during the burglaries were recovered,” the SAPS said in a statement.
“After experiencing an increase in the number of schools broken into, the Gauteng Provincial Commissioner, Lieutenant General Elias Mawela, appointed a team consisting of different police units to look into the matter.”
A breakdown of arrests related to the vandalism of schools in Gauteng per district is as follows:
- Johannesburg (including Soweto) – 42
- Tshwane – 41
- Sedibeng – 11
- Ekurhuleni – 25
- West Rand – 11
Cellphone tower vandalism
The problem of burglary and vandalism at cellphone towers also remains a significant problem during the lockdown, according to Vodacom chief risk officer Johan van Graan.
“In the case of Vodacom, there has been a significant year-on-year increase in the number of battery thefts in our base stations, with the average increase at around 35%,” van Graan said.
“For instance, on average 600 incidents per month are recorded where sites have been impacted by theft or damage.”
The mobile operator added it is losing between R120-R130 million to vandalism and theft each year.
“Vandalism and battery theft is bad for us and our customers, as it cuts off our customers from the network and is proving to be costly for us,” van Graan said.
“For a country like South Africa, which is currently on lockdown and the only way of connecting with loved ones spread across the country is via the cellphone, it can be stressful to not be able to reach loved ones because batteries in the base station near you have been stolen.”
Vodacom has now begun to recruit community members in heavily-affected remote areas to help protect its base stations against criminals and vandals.
“Our security teams on the ground have observed that quite often syndicates target base stations in far-flung and secluded areas, because they know it will take police a long time to react,” van Graan said.