Image supplied by MTN.
Leoch Lithium battery. Image supplied by MTN.
  • Cell phone network MTN says crime syndicates are stealing its back up batteries and selling them for as little as R5 000.
  • According to investigations the batteries, necessary for keeping its operations online during load shedding, are resold into the black market - the minimum cost for a brand-new battery is R28 000.
  • 703 batteries were stolen from MTN stations in January 2020 from a total of 122 incidents alone.
  • But MTN is fighting back, having recovered 143 batteries, worth R1.2 million, in January 2020, while the battle rages on with syndicates targeting base stations in early 2020.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider South Africa's home page  


MTN says crime syndicates are stealing its back up batteries and selling them for as little as R5 000.

According to its investigations the batteries, necessary for keeping operations online during load shedding, are resold into the black market - the minimum cost for a brand-new battery is R28 000.

Ultimately, they are being used as an alternative source of energy, said a spokesperson.

“We have seen most of them crossing boarders hence we approached SAPS and Boarder authorities to intervene. Please note that these batteries are not for sale to the public. Only permitted companies can use them,” said an MTN spokesperson.

703 batteries were stolen from MTN stations in January 2020 from a total of 122 incidents. Cable theft also increased over December and January, with 109 incidents in January, said the spokesperson.

“The reality is criminal syndicates are looking for ways around the security measures and this has again raised the bar for the industry and the public, working hand-in-hand with law enforcement and security companies,” said Ernest Paul, MTN General Manager: Network Operations. 

MTN said increased efforts in beefing up security have paid off.

Three suspects, apprehended in October last year in a joint operation between Bidvest Protea Coin and the South African Police Service, were sentenced to between 5 and 10 years in jail on 28 January for tampering with essential infrastructure – a total of eight MTN Lithium Ion Batteries and eight Telkom Lead Acid batteries were recovered,

143 batteries, worth R1.2 million, were recovered in January 2020, while the battle rages on with syndicates targeting base stations in early 2020 as battery theft incidents rise.

A total of 338 batteries worth R4 million stolen from MTN base stations were recovered in July last year, with 275 batteries worth almost R3 million recovered in September.

 “This is an excellent breakthrough in the work and determination between the Madelene SAPS and Bidvest Protea Coin as these individuals were classified as a syndicate within the area. What this and the other small successes show is that when the public, industry and security and police forces work together, we can make a dent in criminal activity. However, as recent trends indicate, there is still much to be done and we must anticipate a greater fightback from criminals and sophisticated syndicates in the months ahead and be ready,” said Paul.

Backup batteries play an essential part in keeping network operations running during load shedding.

MTN said the brands that are used by most network operators are: 

Leoch Lithium battery. Image supplied by MTN.
Cos Light battery. Image supplied by MTN.
Image supplied by MTN.
Shoto Lead Acid battery. Image supplied by MTN.

The battery back-up system generally takes 12-18 hours to recharge, while batteries generally have a capacity of 6-12 hours, depending on the site category.

“Network coverage is lost if we do not have batteries, while cases of vandalism, cable theft and diesel theft remain high,” said Paul.

“We need everyone to join forces if we are to truly fight back against the sophisticated syndicates behind these crimes, and MTN is certainly doing that early in 2020 to ensure we limit the damage and ensure our customers still get quality network coverage.

Tips offs can be reported here:

  •              Bidvest Protea Coin Hotline – Call 086 101 1721
  •              @MTNza Fraud Line – Call 083 123 7867
  •              Or email anonymous@tipoffs.com 

Receive a daily update on your cellphone with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa: