City power hero dies

2014-01-02 00:00

THE city has lost its first employee to the scourge of cable theft.

Msunduzi Municipality electrician Ntandoyenkosi Mgwili (35) died as a result of his injuries on Monday after he was badly burned in an explosion at an electrical substation while trying to repair the damage caused by cable thieves just before Christmas.

Mgwili, who was to celebrate his 36th birthday next week, recently told his mother that he and his colleagues worked under life-threatening conditions.

His grieving mother, Bongiwe Zimu, told The Witness that her son was burnt “from head to toe”.

“He was in pain. During his last days he told me that they are working under life-threatening conditions because of people who steal copper cable and because of the infrastructure that needs to be renewed. He said they had been saved by God’s grace. But we did not expect this to happen,” said his mother.

She added that he was the father of three boys and a four-month-old girl, and that his dream was to see his children getting a good education so they could be better members of society.

“Our family lost the breadwinner and the only child I have. We are in this position because someone wanted to make quick money while putting others in danger. He left his home to go to work and never returned,” said Zimu.

His friend and colleague, Garnet Mlete, said this was the second friend of his to die in the call of duty at the municipality.

“Mgwili was the second after our friend Bonginkosi Miya died in 2009 fixing the electricity. Something needs to be done before we lose all the members of the Electricity Department. He was a good friend that I trusted,” said Mlete.

Mgwili was one of three Msunduzi staffers who were severely injured whilst trying to restore power to several city suburbs and Hilton on December 20.

The other two are Freeway Mthembu and Ace Mnikathi, who were also hospitalised following the explosion. They have now been discharged from hospital.

The trio were doing repairs after about a third of the city and parts of Hilton were plunged into darkness due to the actions of a suspected syndicate that vandalised three of the capital’s mini substations to steal electrical cable.

Msunduzi’s electrical head Sabatha Monmganga told Weekend Witness at the time that the explosion was triggered after three smaller substations were targeted by the thieves who made off with scrap metal, earth leakage bars and copper cables on Wednesday, December 18.

The Msunduzi municipal manager, Mxolisi Nkosi, yesterday said Mgwili’s death was the direct result of rampant cable and electricity theft.

“It is part of the duty of our municipality to act against the perpetrators. We’ll show no mercy to them,” said Nkosi.

He sent condolences to the family and said investigations, both internally and by the police, are continuing.

According to a legal source, it is not likely, even if they are caught, that the thieves would face a murder charge arising from Mgwili’s death as it would be extremely difficult to prove the cable thefts were the direct cause of his death, or that the thieves would have foreseen his death.

Meanwhile, Pietermaritzburg businessman Ben Lurie, who owns a legitimate scrap metal dealership, told The Witness that dealers are bound by law to investigate the origins of cable or scrap metal they buy, and to report suspicious activity to the authorities.

“We are very, very strict about it,” he said.

“Otherwise we lose our registration.”

Companies who are regular suppliers are made to sign documents certifying the scrap they supply is legitimate, he said.

Opposition calls for swift action on cable theft

CITY councillors from opposition parties reacted with shock to the news of electrician Ntandoyenkosi Mgwili’s death and agreed that those creating the demand for illegal cables should be found and prosecuted.

IFP councillor Dolo Zondi said the rampant theft of copper and metal in Msunduzi requires proper research to come up with an effective strategy to deal with it.

“It is such a blow. We are losing quality people. As council we really need to do something,” he said.

Zondi, who sits on the council’s infrastructure committee, said the rate of cable theft in the city was “very high”.

“It’s killing us. We need to do thorough, measured research and see how best to deal with it. We need to monitor the scrap metal dealers and bring in inspectors to check up on them regularly.

“We must identify the end point of the illegal scrap metal market and the kingpins there must be arrested. We need to get all the stakeholders involved, including the police.”

The DA’s Bill Lambert said the “cancer of theft” had to be addressed in 2014. He said he would raise it at the first executive committee meeting of the year.

He said it was important to identify those who created a demand for the illegal cable and metal.

He was “very saddened” to hear of Mgwili’s death and he paid tribute to “a very special employee” for his “hard work”.

Lambert added that the electrification of the informal settlements had to be a first priority for the city this year.

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