Cellphone towers targeted

2020-01-22 06:01

A man suspected of being part of a syndicate stealing cellphone tower batteries of mobile phone companies and trading in these, is set to stand trial during March.

The accused, Skhumbuzo Mabaso (56), will appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on 2 and 3 March.

He faces a charge of tampering with essential infrastructure.

The pretrial against Mabaso was concluded on Thursday (16/01).

Brig. Motantsi Makhele, provincial police spokesperson, said investigation linked the accused to five cases of theft of cellphone tower batteries at separate places in Bloemfontein.

He said a breakthrough came following Mabaso’s arrest on 9 April last year in Orange Farm, Gauteng, after failing to prove ownership of cellphone tower batteries the police found in his possession.

According to Makhele, the value of the batteries found was more than R100 000.

“It was later discovered that all the batteries had been stolen from Bloemspruit in Bloemfontein and a case of theft was registered at the Bloemspruit Police Station,” said Makhele.

According to Makhele, the one case of theft was registered in 2016, while the others were recorded in 2017.

“It is alleged that Mabaso committed these crimes through a syndicate travelling from one place to another. He is originally from Durban, but stays in Gauteng.”

Makhele said according to investigation the accused’s clients were based in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other countries.

He said the recovered cellphone tower batteries reportedly belong to Vodacom, MTN and Cell C.

Makhele said according to mobile companies the cost to replace and repair damage caused to these cellphone tower batteries during theft was huge to service providers.

“The rheft of cellphone tower batteries could have a negative effect on service charges to communities, customers and businesses.”

Furthermore, the theft of cellphone tower batteries in farming areas could affect the telecommunication networks used during emergencies.

Ernest Paul, MTN general manager for network operations, said 53 base stations had been completely destroyed due to the theft of cellphone tower batteries in 2019, resulting in the termination of 39 in Tshwane and 15 in Johannesburg.

He said excluding labour, the cost of replacing each battery was about R28 000, plus the additional cost incurred due to vandalised infrastructure.

Paul said findings revealed that Bloemfontein, Bethlehem and Welkom were hotspots.

By August last year, he said, altogether 69 incidents of vandalism due to theft of cellphone tower batteries had been reported in the Free State.

He said an increase in battery theft had been identified as the cause of network connection problems countrywide.

The police appeal to anyone with information that could lead to the arrest of suspects to call the Crime Stop line on 0860-10111 or anonymously provide such information via the MySAPS app.

Members of the public can also report incidents of the theft of cellphone tower batteries by dialling 086-101-1721 or 083-123-7867, or sending email to anonymous@­tipoffs.com.

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