Zulu Province in Africa Takes Tower Theft Seriously: 500-Year Sentence

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The South African province of KwaZulu-Natal has seen a huge spike in base station vandalism and battery theft, reports ITWeb.co.za. Recent incursions have totaled up to 70 incidents per month. Having little patience with the communication disruptions caused by thieves and vandals, law enforcement has taken to meting out swift and severe punishments to deter would-be criminals.  

In August, David Jenkins came before the Cape Town regional court, having been found guilty of 25 counts of tower equipment theft. For each count, Jenkins received a sentence of 20 years in jail. The 20-year terms were later reduced to 13 years, cutting the original 500 years in prison down to a more manageable 325. “The clear message that we want to send to criminals is that if you target our base stations, you will be caught and you will be prosecuted,” said Chris Lazarus, managing executive for Vodacom KZN region.

Vodacom, a major carrier in the region, has suffered financial losses and service outages as a result of the frequent thefts. Lazarus noted, “We lose millions of rands worth of damage to our base stations annually because of theft and vandalism. But more importantly than the monetary impact, criminals are cutting off entire communities.” Vodacom says it’s investing millions more South African Rands (ZAR) per site in container claddings and security cameras to stem the losses.  [1million ZAR = $62,847 USD].  

Vodacom recently announced plans for spending $320 million ZAR to bring broadband to underserved areas in KwaZulu-Natal. The company is focused on bringing connectivity to the region, a project that is impeded by the US$80 million per year incurred for damages to the tower base stations. 

“We are seeing a dramatic rise in the number of base station vandalism and battery theft cases across the province. We have registered 70 cases per month since the start of 2020, effectively 840 incidents of vandalism per annum. What we are finding through our investigations is that this crime is being perpetuated by organized syndicates who find new ways to commit this type of crime,” said Lazarus. 

KZN law enforcement is working closely with Vodacom to address the ongoing theft and vandalism occurrences, reported ITWeb.co.za. “Crucially for us, the number one line of defense against site vandalism is the local community. Therefore, we urge anyone who sees suspicious activity around our base stations to report it to the police. It’s in everyone’s best interest to act before their signal is cut off,” Lazarus said.  

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