Cable theft rampant in Durban CBD

2014-08-29 00:00

BRAZEN cable thieves have ripped out kilometres of major Telkom lines from Umhlanga and Durban’s CBD.

Yesterday, one gang member was arrested at Durban Station by Metro police, after being caught stripping a massive bundle of copper line with a street value of R320 000. Three accomplices escaped after helping to dig the 527 metres of paper-lined junction cables from their trench parallel to train tracks. Two other cable thieves were arrested near the same station last week.

Meanwhile, one Telkom investigator — who asked not to be named — said up to 10 kilometres of lead-encased copper cable had been removed alongside the M4 highway between, Umhlanga and Ballito.

The gang was spotted by road construction workers yesterday, but escaped as police descended.

But while Telkom has suffered, eThekwini Electricity scored a victory this week with an anti-theft operation in Durban North that stopped a blitz on power cables.

The Telkom investigator said the massive M4 theft was uncovered during an investigation into illegal animal snares near Umhlanga.

“They had dug it out every two to three metres for miles — the holes looked like little graves next to the highway all the way to Ballito,” she said. “They were basically mining the copper — unbelievable.”

The investigator said she had found the gang stripping the thick, lead-encased copper lines in nearby bush, but they had fled by the time Metro police dog unit arrived.

She said a rapid response from Telkom technicians had prevented major disruptions to communications and Internet services in Umhlanga. However, some fibre optic lines were also damaged by the thieves, which disrupted services to an unknown number of businesses and residents in the area.

Although the parastatal’s losses to cable thieves jumped from R164 million in 2010 to R247 million last year, incidents in KZN have dropped from 228 per month in 2011 to about 50 this year, according to risk manager Marius van der Westhuizen. However, he said gangs were focusing on heavier underground junction lines, which have to be hauled to the surface — usually using block-and-tackle systems.

Neil Powell, of the Durban North Community Police Forum, said a two-month blitz on the area’s power cables had abruptly stopped recently.

An SAPS “vagrant clearance operation” and an eThekwini Electricity strategy to mount cables high on poles had made the difference.

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