Cable theft costs South Africa R10bn every year

The power distribution network in South Africa is “extremely vulnerable”, with an increasing number of cable theft, meter tampering and illegal connections taking place. The total losses for the country […]

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By Priyanka Shrestha

The power distribution network in South Africa is “extremely vulnerable”, with an increasing number of cable theft, meter tampering and illegal connections taking place.

The total losses for the country every year could be as high as R10 billion (£0.73bn), according to Rens Bindeman, Technical Advisor of the Southern African Revenue Protection Association. Transformers at substations are frequently tapped into to drain oil in many African countries, believed to lead to overheating of the transformer which causes power outages and explosions.

This has resulted in losses for companies and national telecommunications provider Telkom reported it lost between R165.4 million (£12.1m) and R183.5 million (£13.4m) due to cable theft in its 2010/11 financial report.

Mr Bindeman added: “In certain areas, when cables are stolen four or five times, Telkom refuses to re-install cables – it simply becomes too expensive. Not only does this cut people off from communication with their families and friends but it can also impact negatively on business and trade. Utilities are constantly looking for alternatives to copper cables to diminish the risk of theft. The power distribution network is extremely vulnerable in term of illegal connections, meter tampering, theft of transformers and other illegal activities.”

Two trains that collided in South Africa at the end of January, which led to two people fatally injured, 19 in critical conditions and around 300 suffering minor injuries, was believed to be “most likely” due to the theft of two 25m cables that disrupted the automated signalling system.

The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) has called on President Jacob Zuma to prioritise the rising number of cable theft in the country. It said the cases of cable theft which led to lives lost should accelerate action against the perpetrators.

Steve Harris, General Secretary at UTATU SARWHU, a trade union affiliated with FEDUSA said: “Our union fully endorses the calls for the crime of cable theft to be upgraded to attempted homicide. There will be no denting the level of cable theft until a sufficient number of perpetrators are behind bars for long enough to make the risk unattractive.”