Just 36 people to protect SA’s 144?000?km of cable

2014-05-02 00:00

TELKOM has 36 people to protect 144 000 km of cable in South Africa — enough copper to circle the earth three-and-a-half times.

That’s one person to prevent theft of copper line which could stretch the entire coastline of South Africa and Namibia.

Eskom has static guards at power stations and private security contracts to protect 400 000 km of power line — which is the distance to the moon.

Then there are the massive networks laid by Transnet, the municipalities, Prasa, and the mines — mostly, either strung between poles in the open, or buried without a protection a metre or two underground.

Every metre of this gigantic web of copper and aluminium is targeted by approximately 50 syndicates, hundreds of organised groups, and tens of thousands of opportunist thieves.

No one knows how much is taken every month.

And no one knows how much looted infrastructure contributes to the country’s R20 billion scrap metals industry.

The SAPS have no dedicated code to record cable theft, and the monthly barometer produced by the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry serves largely as a trend measure, as it excludes municipalities and mines, dormant lines, and unreported thefts. The barometer recorded R11 million-worth of cable stolen from the major parastatals last month — 156 metric tons — which is 10% higher than March last year. Sacci noted that theft appeared to have stabilised at around R10 million per month.

But internal figures provided by Telkom shows that this parastatal alone lost twice this figure every month last year. And in a 2011 reply to Parliament, the Minister of Energy admitted that the cable theft security bill for Transnet was R10 million per month on its own.

However — using provincial figures from parastatals and utilities and excluding minor thefts — The Witness has established that there are approximately 120 thefts of cable infrastructure every day in South Africa.

Business Against Crime keeps accurate figures for all thefts above R1 000 in the Western Cape. Its infrastructure risk expert there, Billy Laubscher, said there were 596 such thefts in February, up from 570 in November — or roughly 20 per day for the province.

In KZN, eThekwini Electricity and Telkom both record five reported thefts daily, and Prasa reportedly has a similar number of incidents. Until a major syndicate arrest in December, “big cable” — like Eskom’s 88 000 volt pylon lines — was stolen twice each week in KZN.

Eskom’s veteran cable theft expert, Leon Van den Berg, said the parastatal was losing R35 million-worth of cable each year, and Maboe Maphaka, head of risk for Eskom, has estimated the total annual cost to Eskom at R400 million.

But hardest hit is Telkom, which spent R248 million last year in replacement costs alone, according to its Durban risk manager Marius van der Westhuizen.

Eskom did not provide The Witness with replacement cost figures.

But Eskom technicians testifying in appeals court cases have consistently stated that the replacement costs for stolen conductors are ten times higher than the value of the cables themselves.

Most experts cite the same estimate for the total cost to South Africa’s economy — R10 billion — but Simi Pillay-van Graan, head of Business Against Crime, said “the cost is really much higher even than that”.

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