Sifiso Mchunu (45) has been convicted and sentenced by the Madadeni Regional Court in South Africa for the theft of Tower battery(ies) from MTN and Vodacom cellular towers in June 2017. The sentencing, which took place on Tuesday, 7 November 2023, comes more than six years after Mchunu’s initial arrest.
The arrest was made possible by Hawks officers from the Head Office Serious Organised Crime Investigation. Acting on intelligence about a vehicle transporting tower batteries from Newcastle to Johannesburg, authorities intercepted the vehicle at Villiers. A search of the vehicle led to the recovery of 32 tower batteries valued at approximately R192,000.
Further investigations by Newcastle Serious Organised Crime Investigation revealed that the stolen batteries were from MTN and Vodacom towers in Madadeni. Sifiso Mchunu’s accomplice, Phakamani Ncube (38), was also apprehended and charged with possessing suspected stolen property and damaging essential infrastructure. Both suspects were initially released on bail.
While Ncube pleaded guilty in August 2018 and received a five-year direct imprisonment sentence, Mchunu opted for trial. Found guilty last week, he now faces a 10-year imprisonment term, with five years suspended under the condition that he avoids conviction for theft during the suspension period. The Madadeni community awaits further developments as justice is served.
Criminal Syndicates Target Tower Batteries in South Africa’s Mobile Network
Criminal syndicates are increasingly targeting South Africa’s mobile network infrastructure, focusing specifically on high-capacity batteries with lucrative black market values. Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub disclosed that the company allocates R1 billion annually to battery expenses alone.
Although MTN has not detailed its capital expenditure similarly, recent reports indicate monthly spending of approximately R1.1 billion from June to September, highlighting the need for enhanced network capacity and resilience amid load-shedding challenges.
MTN revealed that attacks on its towers and battery theft have reached crisis proportions. In the Eastern Cape alone, 390 MTN base stations fell victim to vandalism last year, with some experiencing multiple incidents. Additionally, certain sites were targeted up to 15 times, resulting in over 1,000 incidents within the province for the year.
Mobile operators are implementing innovative measures to safeguard their infrastructure, such as encasing generators and batteries in reinforced concrete. Protective measures also include applying a combination of epoxy and glass around battery housings to prevent criminals from cutting through them with power tools like grinders.
Telecom companies are adopting advanced solutions like surveillance systems and artificial intelligence to fortify their defenses. Collaboration with law enforcement agencies and community engagement initiatives play a crucial role in addressing the root causes of criminal activities and raising awareness about the broader impact of theft on network reliability.
In addition to bolstering their defenses, telecom operators actively engage in legislative advocacy to address challenges posed by criminal activities. This commitment to long-term solutions and a legal framework serves as a deterrent to wrongdoing.
On a global scale, South Africa shares common ground with international counterparts facing similar challenges. Telecom companies are comparing and adopting successful strategies from global experiences to contribute to a more resilient mobile network infrastructure.
By combining strengthened security measures, technological innovations, collaborative initiatives, legislative advocacy, and insights from global experiences, telecom companies aim to safeguard the backbone of digital connectivity, ensuring uninterrupted services for the communities they serve.