As the country experiences hours of rolling blackouts on a daily basis, many South Africans have been resorting to small-scale solar installation in their households and businesses. This as a means to protection against the surge in criminal activities committed during load shedding. However, the theft of solar panels has now become an emerging trend among criminals who sell them on the black market.
Numerous cases of solar panels theft have been reported across Limpopo province over the last months. Cellphone tower batteries have also been a target for thieves.
48-year-old Nyambeni Tshigabe runs a grocery store in crime-infested village of Siloam near Louis Trichardt. Following a constant string of break-ins at his shop during blackouts, Tshigabe was forced to install a solar system and close-circuit security cameras. But that did not deter brazen criminals who came for his solar panels just a few weeks after installing them.
“One morning when I came here I discovered that they stole the panels from the rooftop. Rhey did it twice these criminals, stop at nothing to get what they want. It was a setback for me.”
Tshigabe has now resigned to his shop being targeted by criminals as he’s now unable to cope with the soaring prices of solar installation.
“Honestly, I have given up I can’t afford to install solar again otherwise I will be out of business. They money I have is for keeping the business running.”
An electrician, Patrick Magonono, who installs solar panels has issued a word of advice to those wishing to keep criminals at bay.
“I can advise people to not just install solar panels. They must also secure them. The best way currently is to put a steel structure around them and mount it on the roof.”
The theft of cellphone tower batteries is also sticking out like a sore thumb across the province. Residents have described the trend as life-threatening.
“This is disturbing. Sometimes when you are in need of medical attention your can’t even call an ambulance or even police. It affects every one not only me, no communication, no internet it affects us badly.”
Limpopo police authorities say they are working with community policing forums to stem out these criminal activities. They added that some stolen tower batteries are smuggled to neighbouring countries.
Police spokesperson is Mamphiswa Seabi explains, “I can assure you that we are having success especially with tower batteries in Bela Bela we arrested two suspects, in Blouberg also we arrested suspects and also across we do intercept vehicles with hidden batteries being smuggled across the border. We are on top of the game it also the responsibility of service provide to provide security.”
Mobile operators are also deploying security personnel at some telecommunications towers in an attempt to curb incidents of battery theft.