Power theft: law tightens

2012-10-24 00:00

ILLEGAL electricity connections and false electric vending vouchers affect the SA economy to the tune of billions of rands.

Operation Khanyisa is educating people about this serious crime and lobbying for tighter laws and increasing punishment for related offences.

But for people who have been paying “quick-fix” electricians to organise their illegal power, these lethal connections can cause overloading, outages and blackouts in entire neighbourhoods.

Illegally connected wires can cause fires and exposed wires, usually ill-concealed under sand, can electrocute innocent people.

Two months ago, a three-year-old child was electrocuted in the Jika Joe settlement when she grabbed a live wire running along the ground.

Ntokozo Cele died immediately. The illegal connection was running from a transformer in Prince Alfred Street, through the neighbourhood and across the river to the informal settlement.

On another occasion, a Northdale man trying to make an illegal connection was electrocuted when he slipped on wet grass while carrying a live wire. Neighbours heard a terrifying scream, and then there was the smell of his burning flesh.

Maboe Maphaka, spokesperson for Operation Khanyisa, said they have been making progress since the operation began two years ago. They have set up a crime line for tip-offs, and this has received 4 000 tips related to illegal connections and vending theft.

Maphaka said one of their priorities is looking at ways to punish those contravening the law. In the past, those caught making illegal connections were given a fine or a slap on the wrist for malicious damage to property. Now they will be charged with a much more serious crime.

“We are looking at charging the culprits with fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, and, in cases where an innocent person is electrocuted, the culprits can be charged with attempted murder,” said Maphaka.

Illegal vending of fraudulent pre-paid electricity vouchers is also an issue and these criminals can be charged with racketeering. Operation Khanyisa has been training the police and prosecutors in how to charge people involved with stealing electricity.

“We are going to areas where we know there are a lot of illegal connections and we are disconnecting these wires and educating people, telling them how dangerous it is.

“In fact, for most of these people, it would cost R90 to get a bona fide Eskom connection. How can you compare this cost to a human life?

“We also explain how they will be charged with tampering with electricity meters and they will also be charged for all the electricity they have stolen. In a recent court case, we managed to get a court to pass a 15-year jail sentence on someone who had stolen electricity.

“This is good news, because in the past the punishment did not fit the crime.”

The operation is currently looking for areas to expand its education programmes.

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