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Vodacom said on Tuesday that it is working on a new model to reduce battery theft in its base stations that involves community members, working with police, to monitor and safeguard sites, especially in areas where such crime has become rampant.

“This approach forms part of measures Vodacom is rolling out to secure its sites as incidents of site vandalism and battery theft keep on rising,” the operator said in a statement.

Incidents of base station vandalism have become significantly worse in recent years because of organised syndicates getting involved, Vodacom said. “It is estimated that local cellphone network providers lose hundreds of millions of rand worth of damage to their base stations annually because of theft and vandalism, which ultimately impacts the cost of mobile services.”

Battery theft incidents have risen by 35% in the past 12 months at Vodacom sites. On average, 600 incidents are recorded every month.

“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 the police a long time to react,” said Johan van Graan, chief risk officer for Vodacom Group in a statement. “Hence, our sites in remote areas are repeatedly hit. We are responding to this by testing a new model to secure these sites by forging partnerships with members of the community.

“As part of this new model, we recruit local people to serve as monitoring personnel to be our eyes and ears on the ground and provide us with critical information police can use to effect arrests,” he said. “As part of this, we will provide locals with necessary training and accreditation, and link them to policing community forums and the local SAPS to provide support when arrests must happen.”

‘Positive results’

Vodacom said the model is still being tested, but has yielded “positive results”.

“For example, because Vodacom has enlisted services of local people to secure its sites, in sites that used to be hit every month, break-ins have now been reduced substantially. This demonstrates that the number one line of defence against site vandalism is the local community and vigilant community members who report incidents of battery theft or site vandalism to police,” said Van Graan.

Last week, TechCentral reported that Vodacom plans to spend R1-billion in its current financial year ensuring its network in South Africa is able to cope with Eskom’s rolling blackouts.

Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub

Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said that most of this investment will be used to secure and install additional batteries and generators to ensure its base stations continue to operate during load shedding.

He said Vodacom is turning to low-tech solutions to fight the scourge of battery theft. “What we have done now is go old school. We put epoxy around the batteries and put cut glass into them. It looks crappy, but it’s working. When they come with an angle grinder, it breaks the blade,” Joosub said. – © 2020 NewsCentral Media

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