R10m metro bill for cable theft

Investigations unit on board as power thieves drain city’s coffers

Cable theft has cost the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality R10-million over the past 10 months – roughly R1-million a month.

The theft has forced the municipality to launch a specialist investigation unit – tasked only with protecting electricity cables in identified “hot spot” areas. This was revealed after six people were arrested in two separate incidents over the past week.

During those robberies about R1.1 million worth of cables were stolen.

The six thieves had stolen about 1.5km of cable, burnt the plastic sheathing and then taken the wire for resale before they were caught.

Nationally, the government estimates that cable theft costs the country between R5-billion and R7.5 billion per year -– mostly affecting Eskom, Transnet and Telkom.

The municipality this week described cable theft as a massive problem that caused havoc to the electricity supply of residents .

Bay electricity and energy directorate senior director for distribution Carl Hempel said that, since July last year, an estimated R10-million had been spent on replacing underground and overhead electricity cables.

“This includes the replacement and purchasing of the wires to reinstall and fix structures that had been damaged due to cable theft,” he added.

To date, the municipality has identified three main hot-spot areas that appear to be the focus of syndicates.

About 800m of stripped cable was found at the Motherwell Reservoir earlier this week, one of the problem areas for cable theft in the metro
About 800m of stripped cable was found at the Motherwell Reservoir earlier this week, one of the problem areas for cable theft in the metro

Hempel said the affected areas were mainly in Walmer, Newton Park and Motherwell.

“The impact is that the community will be left without power while we have to replace and fix the cable.

“In some cases the power stays online as we are able to plug them into other feeds, but for the bulk of it, power is interrupted,” he said.

Hempel said the theft was a constant problem.
“Mostly, the thieves climb the poles and cut the live wires, but sometimes with underground cables they simply dig it up.”

Asked about electrocution, Hempel explained that the tools used by the thieves protected them from being shocked.

“However there are cases where people make mistakes and get killed.”

Last month, a person trying to steal a transformer had been electrocuted in Walmer – affecting the power in the Sardinia Bay and surrounding areas, he said.

The Motherwell Reservoir line, which borders NU29 in Motherwell, according to Hempel, has been stolen about five times this year alone.

Police spokesman Captain Andre Beetge said that on Monday four men had been arrested after residents caught them with a bag of cables trying to leave Nu29, Motherwell.

“The residents are upset over the constant power outages in the area. The power outages are directly linked to the theft of cables and damage to infrastructure. The men were arrested and about R200 000 worth of cable recovered.”

At 2pm on Monday, another 800m of stripped cable was found at the Motherwell Reservoir.

“The plastic around the cables is either stripped or burnt, leaving the actual wire and copper – which is then sold to scrap metal dealers,” he said.

Beetge said the thefts were directly linked to unrest, mob justice and protests – due to some residents being without power for days. “Currently residents are on a witch-hunt for these thieves. We have been told by residents that they are looking for them.

“It is a problem and people are very frustrated about it. We are working with the municipality and the residents to assist in curbing the theft. However, because the cables stretch for hundreds of kilometres, it is difficult to monitor everything.”

In 2016 the municipality suffered R9-million of damage to power substations between September and November.

This was due to thieves attempting to steal power cables and vandalising substations.

Municipal spokesman Kupido Baron said its investigation team had deployed its mobile surveillance vehicle to film and monitor illegal activities in the dead of night, or daylight, several kilometres away.

The mobile surveillance vehicle, which was purchased for R6 million in 2010, specialises in using state-of-the art technology such as night-vision cameras with high-power zoom capabilities to detect the culprits.

Baron said cable and copper fetched about R90/kg at scrap metal dealers.

Anyone who would like to report cable theft is urged to contact the municipal emergency number (041) 585-1555 or the call centre at 0800-205-050.