The cable-theft menace’s exploding cost

2014-04-30 00:00

EVERY day, a dozen suburbs in KwaZulu-Natal are paralysed by a hidden menace.

The story is brought home by events on a series of randomly selected recent days in South Africa.

On March 10 in Durban, for instance, power outages struck residents in Morningside, Clairwood, Westville, Chatsworth and Silverglen — events most people blamed on Eskom load shedding or municipal faults.

In many cases they actually saw men dressed in eThekwini or Telkom overalls and reflective jackets working on the lines before the outage.

On March 11, two sub-stations went down around Durban. In Harding in the Midlands, two pet dogs were electrocuted during a black-out.

And on March 12, businesses and residents in Umbilo, Malvern, Sea Cow Lake, Ottawa and Northdene had to navigate their days without electricity.

On each of those days, another five neighbourhoods in KwaZulu-Natal found themselves with no landline or Internet service.

And on each of those same three, average days, hundreds of train commuters missed meetings or work because their trains were delayed.

In fact, cable thieves were behind each of these problems, according to investigator records — problems replicated in cities and neighbourhoods throughout South Africa.

In Pretoria, on March 10, thousands of residents of Soshanguve were without power after thieves caused the K Section sub-station to explode.

In Cape Town, three guards at the Gugulethu Security Depot were assaulted and held at gunpoint while R40 000 worth of power cable was stolen, and the R300 highway fell into darkness after being stripped of streetlight wire.

No one is immune.

At least two police stations in KZN — Umkomaas and Scottburgh — were recently without phone services because brazen gangs cut their Telkom lines.

Meanwhile, every Durban ratepayer racked up a little extra cost to cover the R72 million annual direct losses to Durban for the theft of electrical infrastructure alone; and a little extra in fees and taxes to cover R248 million lost by Telkom, R400 million lost by Eskom; a cost of hundreds of millions for Transnet — and the estimated R10 billion lost to the South African economy overall.

According to eThekwini Electricity’s business risk unit, ratepayers forked out R60 million to replace stolen city electricity cable last year, and another R12 million for secuity.

But the total cost of theft to the city was just R34 million in 2008.

The unit’s manager estimated that 80% of all power outages in Greater Durban were caused by copper theft — the same figure suggested by Pietermaritzburg’s infrastructure manager Sabatha Nomnganga.

eThekwini Electricity records show that, on March 10, one gang stole copper earthing bars from a mini sub-station on Old South Coast Road, and another plundered similar installations on Montclair’s Benson and Glen roads. Another group cut two wires across a span on Hime Road in Morningside, and others stripped 40 mm low voltage lines on Mountain Rise Drive, Percy Osborne Road and Silverglen Drive in Chatsworth.

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