Sunday, 10 April 2022 10:15

Joburg electricity infrastructure targeted as municipality battle to protect it.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Criminals are becoming increasingly violent when stealing cables in Johannesburg, putting lives at risk and compounding the country’s economic woes.

Johannesburg mayor Mpho Phalatse has pleaded with the South African Police Service to help tackle sophisticated and well-armed gangs who target the city’s electricity infrastructure, the City Press reports.

It comes at a time when two security guards were killed in recent weeks by alleged cable thieves, heavily armed with AK-47s. "The increasing use of violence by the thieves is an ominous development," the paper said.

It reported that the City of Joburg alone spends about R100 million annually to prevent cable theft. Over the past five years, the council has lost R187 million due to cable theft and vandalism.

The CoJ noted that the footprint of City Power's network makes it difficult to safeguard all the installations and the City relies on the co-operation of the communities it serves to report incidents of theft and vandalism of the electricity infrastructure so that that perpetrator can be brought to book.

"The criminals who steal our copper cable sabotage our economy and our City, leaving businesses and homes in the dark, costing ratepayers a fortune and robbing resources from service delivery."

It is estimated that 45% of the power outages in the City are caused by cable theft, while interruptions after such incidents can last for up to eight hours.

Last month, there were 140 incidents of cable theft, according to City Power. And this past week alone – between Monday and Thursday – 21 incidents were reported.

City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena said the cable thieves were well organised and armed to the teeth with high-calibre firearms.

Mangena said a single underground copper cable stolen earlier this week was worth more than R500,000. Following the theft, a property owner in

KyaSands, north of the city, was arrested for having copper cable worth R300,000 on his premises.

Phalatse said she believes that while cables are stolen for economic gain, sabotage could also be a motive.

"It could be sabotage, we saw a similar pattern in 2016 after we took over government. We are seeing a similar pattern now, where there has been continuous outages in various parts of the city due to theft and vandalism."

"We need SAPS on board as well as the intelligence cluster. I have written to the Presidency and the NPA because we need prosecutions and convictions as well," the mayor said.

During a single week in April, the CoJ pointed to three violent attacks targeting City Power security personnel and infrastructure. "These attacks were carried out by heavily-armed criminals who are not averse to taking lives to undermine the City’s efforts to keep the lights on and sustain economic activity."

"I have instructed the Head of the City’s Group Forensic and Investigation Services (GFIS), Commissioner Shadrack Sibiya, to assemble a strong team, working together with law enforcement agencies including JMPD, to investigate the attacks and ensure that those that are responsible face the full might of the law," said Phalatse.

"We cannot do this on our own and require inputs and resources from all spheres of Government, I have therefore appealed to [president] Cyril Ramaphosa, the National Prosecuting Authority and Gauteng Police commissioner, lieutenant general Elias Mawela to avail the highest level of resources to investigate and prosecute what is becoming a trend aimed at sabotaging Johannesburg’s already fragile infrastructure."

Cilliers Brink, the DA's spokesperson for local government, said that cable theft is problematic for the municipalities across the country.

Brink said the City of Cape Town had achieved a great deal of success with a specialist unit in the metro police department. In the six months to the end of December, the unit had made 132 arrests – 45% more than in the corresponding period the year before.

During the same period, the unit carried out more than 1,000 inspections at scrap yards, imposed 1,736 fines and confiscated, among other things, 289 metres of copper cable.

In an effort to combat cable theft, City Power has also initiated a process of replacing copper conductor cables with aluminum conductor cables. Criminals target copper cables by digging it up to sell to scrap metal dealers, but aluminum has little to no street value.