Copper heists change how we live

2014-04-30 00:00

CARL Petzer, an entrepreneur in Durban, has changed to using gas for cooking at his home because he cannot trust the power supply “in a cable theft environment”.

At his Glenwood IT company, Thusa, he has paid R110 000 for surge protection, an Untinterruptible Power Supply (UPS) device and a generator at his office as the costs of electricity outages mount.

His spending came after his business was struck by four power “spikes” on Bulwer Road in Durban due to sub-station thefts, which destroyed six air conditioning units.

“Our clients have had similar problems with theft-related [power spikes] — especially in Morningside,” said Petzer.

“We now recommend customers buy a UPS with every PC we sell. Whether they realise the true cause of these power problems or not, people are now shielding themselves against the effects of cable thieves just as we’ve shielded ourselves from burglars over so many years.”

On the KZN South Coast, old diesel trains have replaced electric trains — because Transnet could no longer afford to keep replacing the same stolen power cables.

In the Midlands, small businesses like bed and breakfasts are abandoning fax machines, and brass name plaques have vanished from the gateposts of residential complexes everywhere.

Residents in Westville and Cowies Hill — blitzed by copper syndicates since Christmas — are now routinely unplugging all appliances except the fridge and freezer every morning for fear that power surges from mini sub-station break-ins will destroy them.

Stolen Telkom strands used for pirate electricity connections have turned fields around informal settlements into no-go zones for sport or children’s play. With at least a dozen fatally electrocuted last year, residents are now living the bizarre, “island” lifestyles of Mozambican villages that were once surrounded by suspected minefields.

And in the KZN Midlands, farmers have had to switch to wireless communications, because their phone lines have been cut so often that Telkom will no longer replace them. Dairy famer Gerrie Lettenga is now forced to pay R2 000 per month for a satellite phone, and none of his neighbours has a landline. Hundreds of metres of steel suspension cable — which used to hold the copper phone lines, but which holds little interest for thieves — lies in the veld beside the main road into Creighton as the last evidence that this community was once connected to the world.

Lettenga also spent R54 000 last year to replace three cables connecting his pump houses to the Eskom transformer, after thieves ripped them out. He has entombed the new cable in concrete.

Even cable theft investigators are giving up certain plans.

Telkom cable investigator Andrew Gerrathy says: “I’m not putting copper water pipes in my house. I came home and found water was just pouring from my neighbour’s house — they’d just chopped his copper water pipe.”

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