Cato Ridge reels from cable theft

2014-05-17 00:00

RAINBOW Chickens is under siege from a brazen cable theft syndicate, which has robbed their broiler sites at least 15 times in the past two months — while also blitzing rail and Telkom infrastructure from the Cato Ridge region.

One thief was caught at the company’s Thornville site on Thursday — the sixth to be arrested at Rainbow Chickens in six weeks — but the raids continue every third night on average, in which the 150 metre electrical wire which powers the broiler cooling fans is stripped completely. Over six kilometres of copper wiring has been stolen in the blitz, with a replacement cost of well over R1 million.

Neville Mipping, regional manager of the company’s security company, Specialised Security Services, said he had added 30 new security guards to the company’s provincial force of 350 to patrol the fences. But he said, “We believe this is a syndicate operation, which is relentlessly targeting our sites. We’ve chased these guys countless times, but these are professional thieves — they monitor the patrols and have escape plans.”

Rainbow — the country’s largest chicken producer — rotates its broilers between its huge pens — each capable of holding over 30 000 chickens — but Mipping said the syndicate targeted only the empty buildings. Some sites have had general power cables stolen as well.

At the company’s disused B23 site in Hammarsdale, severed sections of cable along an inside wall told the story of how one syndicate crew was interrupted by guards, who arrested a syndicate member last week.

“They sever the thick trunk near the distribution box; cut the three wires to each of the 36 fans; and then pull the whole 150 metres of cable out,” he said.

Stephen Heath, spokesperson for the company, disputed Mipping’s figures, saying, “In the last month we have had five instances of cable theft from some of our redundant farms. The value of the cable stolen in terms of replacement is around R40 000. We did not add 30 security guards but temporarily re-deployed eight guards.”

Heath did not respond to questions on how the blitz affected production or pricing.

Meanwhile, Weekend Witness found the broader region around Hammarsdale and Cato Ridge under a general cable siege.

On Tuesday, a member of yet another crew was arrested after stealing power cables on the Transnet line, and bales of confiscated Telkom, Rainbow and municipal cable were stacked outside a security office in Cato Ridge, waiting to be identified by their owners.

Almost all Telkom’s cable has been removed from the poles along Cato Ridge’s main Old Georgedale Road, and telephone poles were standing bare along maintained farm roads, like the D246.

Mipping — who lives on yet another stripped road — said all 250 residents who signed up to his armed response service had to have devices added to make their panic alarms work, due to discontinued Telkom routes.

“Ninety-five percent of rural Cato Ridge has no landline communications now. It’s not just here — I went to Winterton and Bergville recently, and it’s basically all gone. We have to live expensive wireless lives now.”

Dakar rally legend Alfie Cox has had to erect three separate communications systems at his high-end motorcycle dealership to speak to customers, to do his banking and to access the Internet.

Shop manager Hazel Cox said, “It’s cost us thousands — the Telkom line was stolen and replaced; stolen and replaced; and stolen again, and then Telkom told us — three strikes and you’re out. They won’t put up another line.”

She said the company had erected two wireless antennae systems and a satellite dish — at a cost of roughly R5 000 each — and now had to budget for massive communications costs.

“That’s not counting some of the useless wireless phones we’ve had to buy at R900 a shot — and one of the systems didn’t work at all,” she said.

At an SAPS roadblock in Hammarsdale, the police officer was asked about the cable theft blitz, and responded, “Ja, we arrested a guy last night — they are cutting everywhere.”

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