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Telcoms firms battling wave of theft, crime

The ever-lurking scourge of crime takes a heavy toll every day in SA.
It is not confined to ganglands, sinister dark alleys or even suburban burglaries.
It affects ordinary citizens and the delivery of essential services in a multitude of destructive ways – whether it’s our children on their way to school, efficient telecommunications, the paramedic who responds to an emergency, the building of homes, doctors and nurses in clinics, or simply commuters trying to get to work on time.
People are living and working in fear – this is their cry for help . . .
Rampant crime in Nelson Mandela Bay’s townships and northern areas is putting a massive strain on two major telecommunications companies’ ability to provide cellphone and internet connectivity to residents and businesses.
Cellphone giant Vodacom and ICT firm Openserve have told how they battle with widespread cable theft, the stealing of batteries from cellphone towers and attacks on their staff.
Both companies have had to bring in private security escorts to assist, but even they are falling victim to criminals.
Openserve spokesperson Pynee Chetty said 26 staff members had been the victims of armed robberies in 2018.
He said the areas where most of the thefts and armed robberies had occurred were in New Brighton, Motherwell, KwaMagxaki and Bethelsdorp.
Chetty said this had had a significant impact on the company’s ability to render sustained services to their customers.
Openserve is an infrastructure provider to several corporate companies, operators and government, and is the largest ICT infrastructure provider in SA.
“The repeated nature of incidents increases the downtime experienced by customers and the maintenance costs incurred for repairs.
“Services working on copper-based technologies are most affected owing to theft of copper cables, batteries and poles.”
In addition to infrastructure theft, Chetty said armed robberies of Openserve employees had also been prevalent.
“There are 26 employees who have experienced armed robberies during 2018.”
And while efforts were made to escort Openserve technicians into these areas with armed security, it has been found that the guards have also become targets.“In areas where repeated incidents have occurred, we can no longer deploy technicians to repair services and, as such, alternate services working on wireless technology is offered to customers.”Chetty said in cases where repeated thefts occurred, the cost to repair outweighed the revenue generated by a significant margin.Coupled to this is the very high risk of the theft being repeated within days of the firm replacing infrastructure.“In such cases it becomes totally non-viable to repair the cables.”According to Vodacom Eastern region managing executive Mpumelelo Khumalo, they have also been forced to ramp up their efforts to fight criminal activity.Cellular base stations are the only form of connectivity available to many communities, and when criminals target these to steal diesel, power cables and mainly batteries, they can cut off hundreds, if not thousands, of people.“It is estimated local cellphone network providers lose millions of rands in damage to base stations annually as a result of theft and vandalism, which ultimately impacts the cost of mobile services.“And we repeatedly see situations where people can’t make emergency calls and are put in danger, and sooner or later these criminals will cost someone’s life.”Khumalo said theft could result in the network in that area being down for days, and severely affect businesses as well as anyone relying on the internet to study.“It can also cause ecological damage, with vandalism resulting in diesel spillage.”“Our technicians on the ground are also under threat.”He confirmed that in partnership with the police, members of the community and security teams from Vodacom, the company had been able to recover stolen batteries and apprehend suspects who belonged to syndicates targeting batteries from the base station sites of cellphone providers across the province.

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