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Hefty prison sentence for telecoms infrastructure vandals

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Three men will collectively serve 90 years in prison for vandalising telecoms infrastructure.

The vandals were sentenced in the Bethulie regional court in the Free State for stealing 24 cellphone tower batteries belonging to MTN and Vodacom valued at R135 000.

Clive Hove (28), Washington Khoza (32) and Patrick Chirambadare (34) were found guilty and sentenced to 30 years each in prison for the crime.

On the first count of damaging essential infrastructure and theft of 12 cellphone tower batteries belonging to MTN, each received 15 years imprisonment, and on the second count of theft of 12 Vodacom batteries they also got a 15-year sentence.

State prosecutor Leon Ehlers requested the court to impose harsh punishment on the accused because damage to infrastructure seriously impacts South Africans.

“The NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] has classified damage to infrastructure as one of the priority crimes because of the prevalence of these crimes in the province, and they have a serious impact on the lives of South Africans, and for that, we call upon the court to impose harsh punishment on the accused,” Ehlers said.

“They failed to show any remorse because they denied being involved in the crime, and chances of rehabilitation are very slim. The imposition of harsh punishment on the accused will send a message to like-minded people that the courts will not tolerate their criminal actions.”

Theft and vandalism of infrastructure has resulted in the mobile operators losing hundreds of millions of rands.

The rate of vandalism and theft, especially multiple repeat incidents, has in some instances forced operators to abandon base stations due to nonviable replacement costs, thereby adversely impacting network availability or quality in some areas.

To curb the growing problem, Cell C, Vodacom, MTN SA, Telkom and Liquid Intelligent Technologies launched the Communication Risk Information Centre, a non-profit organisation to better protect their network investments.

It focuses on the collective identification, mitigation and prevention of the common risk issues within the industry.

For this year, the organisation’s key focus is centred on critical infrastructure network vandalism, commercial crimes and cyber security.

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