One man died when police caught two people allegedly stealing cellphone tower batteries near Tzaneen in Limpopo on Tuesday.
“One of the men allegedly fell from the pole when seeing the police and died instantly. The incident took place next to Mohokoni village, under Mokwakwaila policing area, outside Tzaneen,” police spokesperson Brigadier Motlafela Mojapelo said in a statement.
Officers investigated the area after receiving reports that there were people tampering with the tower. Police found that the transformer was being dismantled and transmission oil drained.
“Upon realising that they were cornered, one suspect ran into the nearby bushes while firing shots at the police who retaliated and chased after him,” said Mojapelo.
“He was later arrested at Mohokoni tarred road with the assistance [of] community members and is admitted at a local hospital under police guard after sustaining injuries during the shootout with the police.
“The second suspect, who apparently made use of a makeshift stepladder to climb up, was found still on the pole and he allegedly tried to evade arrest by jumping off. He then hit the ground head first and was certified dead on the scene.”
Impact on mobile networks
Police arrested two more people who allegedly arrived to collect the stolen property.
Mobile operators have highlighted the impact of base station vandalism.
Vodacom said that organised syndicates were targeting cellphone network base stations and the company loses between 1 500 and 2 000 batteries per month.
“In the case of Vodacom, there has been a significant increase year on year in the number of battery thefts in our base stations, with the average increase at around 35%,” a Vodacom spokesperson told News24 recently.
In August, MTN permanently shut down 53 base stations because of theft and vandalism.
“This situation leaves many South Africans without access to network services either because of downtime caused by repeated maintenance and repairs or in the extreme case of towers being terminated, where the regular theft and vandalism renders towers unsustainable. This impacts on consumers’ access to emergency services, effective business operations and connecting with loved ones,” said MTN General Manager of Network Operations, Ernest Paul.
The three people who were arrested are to appear in the Bolobedu Magistrate’s Court on Thursday on charges of theft and malicious damage to property.