Theft of Operator-Owned Equipment Plagues Botswana and South Africa

The issue of theft of operator-owned equipment has made headlines in both Botswana and South Africa recently. Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) has been dealing with copper theft, while Vodacom has been tackling battery theft.

Copper theft has been an ongoing problem for BTC, leading them to announce their goal of becoming completely ‘copper-free’ in the capital city of Gaborone, as well as in the diamond mining towns of Orapa and Jwaneng by the end of the next financial year. The theft of copper cables has cost BTC significantly. In fact, their pretax profits for the year ending in March 2023 dropped by 23%, partly due to the expense of replacing stolen cables. This replacement cost amounted to approximately 56 million pula (US$4.11 million) over the year. To address these losses, BTC plans to invest more in fibre rollouts to replace the legacy copper networks.

However, even with copper replacement efforts, theft remains a concern, as demonstrated by Vodacom in South Africa. Vodacom has been combatting battery theft and vandalism at their base station sites in Free State and Northern Cape provinces. To address this issue, Vodacom Central Region has implemented several security measures. They have installed CCTV cameras at base station sites to monitor suspicious activities, deployed armed response teams in case of intrusion, and utilized high-quality security cabinets and steel-clad containers equipped with alarms to protect essential infrastructure, such as batteries. Additionally, collaborative efforts with law enforcement agencies have resulted in successful prosecutions.

Vodacom reports that vandalism incidents occur at 15 to 28 sites per month, with an average of 18 to 30 batteries stolen monthly at base stations in the region. These ongoing thefts have prompted Vodacom to take proactive measures to safeguard their equipment and deter unauthorized access.

The theft of operator-owned equipment continues to pose challenges for both BTC in Botswana and Vodacom in South Africa. However, with increased security measures and investment in alternative technologies, these operators strive to minimize losses and ensure the uninterrupted provision of services.