Amid ongoing power outages, embattled power utility Eskom has warned consumers against infrastructure and electricity theft that it says costs some R20bn per year and are a "leading cause" of blackouts.
Other risks include serious injuries or death as a result of coming into contact with electricity, Eskom said in a statement.
The warning came in the wake of power outages that Eskom said were the result of bad weather, not load shedding.
'Danger to the people'
"Our major concern in the case of illegal connections is that danger is posed not only to the people who engage in illegal connections, but also to the rest of their community, particularly children and animals that form part of the environment," said Eskom’s Divisional Executive for Security, Tebogo Rakau.
"Illegal connections are also the leading cause of unplanned power outages.
"The network overloads and trips because it is carrying more users than what it was designed for.
"Furthermore‚ customers who are not paying for electricity tend to be wasteful in the way they use it‚" Rakau said.
This puts a strain on the electricity system, he said.
According to Rakau, Eskom installs circuit breakers which switch off when the load reaches dangerous levels, which prevents transformers from exploding.
"But sometimes residents bypass these safety features and the transformers eventually explode. Not only is this dangerous, but these transformers can take hours or even days to repair.
"Unfortunately, this affects and inconveniences legal and paying customers as well."
Rakau said it was "to everyone's benefit" if Eskom, businesses, government and communities stood together "to fight and win the battle against infrastructure and electricity theft".
"One person losing their life or getting injured because of the unsafe and illegal use of electricity is simply one too many, especially because these are avoidable incidents," Rakau added.
In 2017, News24 reported that a woman believed to be the kingpin of a syndicate selling prepaid electricity was sentenced to 42 years in prison at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.
Her son was found guilty of participating in a criminal enterprise, theft of an Eskom credit dispensing machine and numerous counts of electricity theft. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Fin24 reported that revenue lost by Eskom through unbilled electricity theft was "very significant", adding to the problem of non-payment by both Eskom direct SPU customers and municipal distributors, yet this was not being reflected within Eskom’s financial reports.
The power utility has faced tense wage negotiations with employees this year, as well as large unpaid bills by defaulting municipalities.
Last month, load shedding was reintroduced for the first time in several years.
Eskom was promoting "safe, legal and smart" use of electricity through its Energy Losses Management Programme, infrastructure crime interventions and Public Safety Programme, the utility said on Tuesday.
These programmes are aimed at educating the public about the consequences of infrastructure and electricity theft, including illegal connections.
Unsafe or illegal power conditions or connections could be reported by calling 08600 ESKOM (37566), Eskom said.
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