Vandalism is a serious issue in Zimbabwe across many industries. For instance, in 2022, ZESA said they are losing over US$4 million annually due to vandalism. They said 30 percent is from vandalism of copper cables, 30 percent is from vandalism of transformers, and 40 percent is from vandalism of various accessories. From January to March 2022 alone, they recorded over 500 cases of vandalism. Yet in the whole of 2021, the number of cases was around 1200. Vandalism is also causing mayhem in the telecommunications industry. Let us explore more.

Remarks By Head Of Corporate Communications At TelOne

Melody Harry, Head Of Corporate Communications At TelOne, had this to say on vandalism:

The business is under threat due to network theft and vandalism, especially on the copper network, with at least US$510 000 recorded in lost revenue and network elements for the period ending 31 December 2022.

Remarks By Media And Corporate Communications Executive At Econet

Fungai Mandiveyi, Media And Corporate Communications Executive At Econet, had this to say on vandalism:

Unfortunately, cases of vandalism of telco infrastructure, such as theft of long-life lithium batteries and diesel fuel to power backup generators at mobile base station sites, continue to cause outages for communities around the sites, depriving them of vital connectivity. Vandalism of telco infrastructure is placing a high cost on telcos, with equipment worth millions of dollars vandalized or stolen from operators’ sites every year.

This also affects service delivery when sites are down because of vandalism or theft of vital components, heavily impairs the customer experience. As Econet, we are doing everything we can to protect our infrastructure from destruction. But we call upon the public to help by quickly reporting suspected cases of vandalism to the nearest police station.

Vandalism Has Been A Challenge For Years Now In Zimbabwe

If you want to trace back, you will realize the problem of vandalism has been ongoing for years. Sure enough, the issue has always been there. However, in the past couple of years, the issue has worsened. The economic downturn in Zimbabwe is at the heart of the increase in cases of vandalism. This has created a ripple effect resulting in many cases of vandalism. For instance, the challenge of load shedding has been a trigger. When electricity is unavailable, it becomes much easier for someone to vandalize telco infrastructure. The other irony is that there have been influxes of settlements in urban and peri-urban areas.

This has led to a scenario where base stations are too close to where people stay. The proximity makes it easy for culprits to study and find vulnerabilities. On the flip side, many base stations have had to be placed in remote spaces. Again, this makes it easy for culprits because there will be no prying eyes. You see, it is coming in of many variables. It is also apparent that most base stations need to be sufficiently protected. Some of them do not even have human security. The majority of them still need to get automated security measures to alert on unauthorized access. On the flip side, deploying human security or installing high-tech security is also costly. So it is a considerable challenge.

Community Involvement Is Paramount

Communities have a huge role to play in reducing or getting rid of vandalism. After all, they get affected the most when destruction occurs. There are several cases where I have noticed that people in surrounding communities often know the culprits. For example, where I stay there were countless cases of vandalism for a number of months. This was affecting both telecoms and electricity. There were many faults and breakdowns which were being caused by vandalism.

After some months there were certain culprits that were caught in the act and arrested. It turned out that it was people residing within that area. Ironically they were people actually known for selling scrap metal. It is also emerged that these were people whose shenanigans were known by many. Their arrest was the result of a tip-off. This is just an example to show that community involvement is paramount in addressing vandalism.

At the end of the day it is going to take concerted efforts from the telco companies and the public working hand in hand. Looking at it financially, you can tell it makes sense why telco companies are delivering shoddy services nowadays. It is because there are losses incurred from vandalism and having to address it. Let us all play our part in dealing with vandalism. If you notice any fishy occurrences you can always anonymously report to the responsible entities or the police.