Electricity cable theft and railway metal theft has long been a severe problem in South Africa. In 2020, as unemployment and crime drastically increased, cable theft, vandalism and widespread metal theft increased.

The International Railway Journal reported at the end of September 2020, that commuter rail services had all but ground to a halt because of cable theft and vandalism which prevented Metrorail services from operating across almost its entire network.

The report stated: “Hundreds of kilometres of overhead cables, signalling wires and catenary masts have been stolen, affecting every Metrorail route in the province of Gauteng, South Africa’s economic heartland.

Stations have also been destroyed on the commuter rail corridors around Johannesburg, with buildings reduced to rubble and platforms torn up by thieves looking for signal wiring.”

In January this year a suspected cable thief was badly burnt when allegedly tampering with wiring. Apart from the obvious dangers of wire-tampering, the cost of the widespread electricity outages, damage and replacement materials is immense.

Oftentimes, according to eThekwini Municipality, the copper stolen is then sold to unscrupulous scrap metal dealers, no questions asked, and is exported to other countries like China and India, where the very same copper is then sold to the country from which it had been stolen.

Cllr Mpho Moerane, MMC on Environment and Infrastructure Services in the City of JHB, issued the following statement

“The Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) on Environment and Infrastructure Services in the City of Johannesburg, Cllr Mpho Moerane, has expressed concern over the increase in the number of electricity cable theft incidents across the City.

Since the start of the current financial year, cables worth over R14 million were stolen, plunging many suburbs into darkness for many days, some for weeks. This excludes the cost to the actual repairs work to the infrastructure, and material.

Since January 2021, City Power has had 144 incidents of cable theft to the value of R2.2 million. In December 2020, there were 206 incidents of cable theft.  Most of these incidents happened during the recent loadshedding stage 2 that was implemented across the country, although cable theft happens when the lights are on. 

On Wednesday alone, 11 cable theft incidents were reported, with six reported Thursday. 

Cllr Moerane has called on law enforcement agencies, the SAPS, JMPD, neighbourhood watches, and CPF to join hands with City Power to assist to curb the scourge. Forty-one suspects were arrested since July 2020 to date, with two arrested this January and 11 in December. 

Cable theft not only costs the City millions in lost revenue, it also inconveniences customers and businesses, especially small business, during a time when the country is experiencing Covid-19 restrictions. 

As part of its mitigating strategy, City Power has been replacing the copper cables with aluminium bundle cables, which have no value to cable thieves.”

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