Ongoing cable theft in the Free State has a negative financial impact on Eskom and affects its supply to customers.
The financial impact manifests in repairs to vandalised infrastructure such as substations, and the replacement of stolen cable.
According to Stefanie Jansen van Rensburg, Eskom’s spokesperson in the Free State, the crime of cable theft is increasing in the province.
She said the Goldfields area – which includes Welkom, Odendaalsrus and Virginia – and the eastern Free State region around Bethlehem have the highest occurrence of cable theft.
“Cable theft is prevalent across the province. We have seen a significant increase in the Free State, but the Goldfields and the eastern Free State are considered our hotspots,” she said.
Jansen van Rensburg said from May to October, cable theft incidents rose. She said the cost of these incidents ranged from R10 million to R20 million.
She said thus far, 11 culprits had been arrested relating to the spate of cable theft, adding that infrastructure vandalism by the syndicate dealing in copper was a long-standing problem.
Recently cable theft in Bethlehem resulted in a fire at the Groenvoerlande substation. The incident left customers without power for hours.
Eskom also battles illegal connections by residents in Bohlokong and Thabong.
“Electricity theft is rife in these two areas. Not only does this overload the networks, but it also endangers the lives of adults and children in the communities,” said Jansen van Rensburg.
“In Bohlokong there is a strong indication of ghost vending, which is the illegal buying and selling of prepaid electricity vouchers. These vouchers are illegal because the money goes to the syndicates and not to Eskom, which needs the revenue to maintain the electricity networks. Previous audits indicated that some of these homes have not bought any electricity over the past three months, but are still consuming power.”
She said bypassing of electricity meters remains a major issue in Thabong.
“This illegal connection means that the meters register very little of the electricity consumed, or none at all.”
Eskom has strongly warned that illegal connections that overload the network can cause transformers to explode.
The power supplier indicated that replacing a transformer costs R80 000 on average, which takes away funding from critical network maintenance.