Electricity cable thieves have been targeting the affluent Waterkloof Glen in Pretoria for the past few months and businesses in the area are desperate for serious intervention from the authorities.
A Mobilitate member reported last week that the cables in the area have been stolen for the tenth time in a short period of time.
Deon is a resident in the area but is also a business owner.
“The amount of damages we have suffered cannot be described. These criminals steal the cables and sell them for a few hundred rand if they are lucky. The damages to home and business owners are hundreds of thousands of rands,” said Deon.
According to Tshwane spokesperson, Nomasonto Ndlovu, the City of Tshwane, similar to most municipalities around the country, has become victim to various criminal elements that specialise in the theft of all kinds of cables.
The city loses R26 million annually because of cable theft.
“The City of Tshwane does not only see cable theft as a criminal act because it interferes with the normal lives of residents and functioning of job-creating industries, but also as an act of economic sabotage which it condemns in the strongest terms,” said Ndlovu.
Normally, according to Deon, it can take the municipality anything from one to four days to replace the stolen cables.
“I speak to the contractors when they come out to replace the cables and they all tell me the same thing. It is happening all over the city at an alarming pace.
“Apparently the municipality has a few teams that do only this; replace stolen cables.”
According to Ndlovu the city has in the past, and is still calling on law enforcement agencies not to see this as petty crime and urge them to leave no stone unturned in apprehending these perpetrators of these criminal acts “because cable theft in South Africa costs the country and its ratepayers billions of rands each year and was recently declared a high-priority crime.”
Deon also belongs to his local CPF and recently learned that there was a shootout between SAPS members and the cable thieves.
A member of a local armed response company was also recently wounded by one of the cable thieves when he confronted them.
“I always thought that the guys stealing cables at night are harmless. But to learn that they are actually armed… it puts a whole new dimension on this,” Deon said.
It is also a regular occurrence for these criminals to just cut the cables in order to shutdown the streetlights.
“They are not just after cables. When the streetlights aren’t working, our street is completely dark at night. This makes it so much easier for them to break into houses.”
The overall damage to infrastructure was worrying, said Ndlovu.
“While cable thieves do not always succeed to get away with the copper, they however usually cause huge damage to the infrastructure in the attempt.
She used the example of an attempted theft of a 30 square centimetre copper cable - carrying 132 kilovolts of electricity and supplying parts of the CBD - which was damaged in March 2011.
Part of the insulation sheath that covered the cable was cut, spilling the lubricating oil and causing the power to trip.
But because of the delicate nature of this particular infrastructure, it took four days for the engineers to fix the problem, leaving areas west of the CBD, including the Pretoria West industrial park without power.
According to Ndlovu many law enforcement agencies had concluded that drug addicts committed this crime to fund their addiction, particularly in South Africa, and socio-economic conditions caused by unemployment and poverty also contributed.
Deon is of the opinion that the only way to curb the theft of cables is to outlaw the trade of scrap metal.
“They are after the copper in the cables and even though the municipality replaces stolen cables with aluminium cables there are so many copper cables left in the city to steal.”
The city recently launched a technologically equipped centre to curb copper cable theft. The centre is operated by private company, Combined Private Investigations (CPI), which relies on technology to combat the growing trend of copper cable theft.
Since its launch, there have already been more than 500 copper cable thieves arrested and most of them have been successfully prosecuted.
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