General manager of security services at City Power, Sergeant Thela says that Johannesburg faces yet another crisis as vandalism and cable theft plague the city, suggesting that it may be the work of a syndicate with inside links.
During an interview with eNCA, Thela noted that the Joburg power proider had experienced a significant surge in cable theft and vandalism at its substations over the past two years.
The utility pointed to an increase in incidents of vandalism at mini-substations, transformer substations, street lights, and theft of cables, mini-substation doors, and copper.
Thela said City Power had flagged 1,899 incidences of vandalism and cable theft in 2021, which has increased to 2,176 in 2022 to date. This, on average, means that there are nine to 10 daily incidences in Johannesburg alone, he said.
Over a week, for example, City Power has had eight mini-substations vandalised, 92 circuit breakers stolen, and countless cables stolen – resulting in millions of rands needed to replace and repair what was stolen and damaged, Thela said.
According to the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC), copper theft from the country’s rail network and electricity grids carries an annual economic cost exceeding R45 billion in 2020/2021.
Due to the rampant nature of the theft, Thela said that he believes there to be an inside syndicate responsible for the vandalism and cable theft at City Power’s substations.
He noted that the thefts are very well planned, and evidence suggests that the thieves are familiar with City Power’s network – moving from one substation to another.
Thela added that the thieves now follow the load shedding schedules, hitting the substations during the scheduled power outages.
The cable thieves tend to target outlying areas, with Roodepoort being hit the hardest over the last week, he said.
When asked what was being done to stop the high rate of vandalism and cable theft, Thela said it’s almost impossible to police, as it’s impractical to monitor every single substation. The robberies are being conducted through load shedding and with speed.
Nevertheless, City power is calling on law enforcement officials to intervene urgently in the vandalism and theft of electricity infrastructure. It has also engaged with private security companies and community members who have come forward to help safeguard the city’s electricity infrastructure.
Government’s plan to crack down on copper theft
The Department of Trade Industry and Competition (DTIC) gazetted its draft policy proposals to regulate and restrict scrap metal trade in South Africa for public comment in August 2022.
The draft policy changes are a direct outcome of president Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2022 State of the Nation Address, where he promised to tackle growing criminality in the scrap metal value chain – particularly with copper theft and other metals stolen from public infrastructure.
This is because criminals can easily conduct their black market businesses as it’s cheap to import furnaces to transform the metals, and there is no formal permit or registered trader regime to identify the legitimate sellers from the dodgy ones.
The department proposes a host of policy measures to put a stop to this, including:
- Imposing a six-month ban on the exports of scrap metal from South Africa;
- Expanding the definition of waste and scrap metal to include other common types of metal that are exported;
- Temporarily suspending the price preference system (PPS) for scrap metal exports, with some exceptions;
- Developing a permit system for the export of these metal products;
- Developing a permit system for the import of furnaces and other scrap transformation machines;
- Creating a registration regime for scrap metal sellers with enhanced registration and strict reporting requirements;
- Restrictions on who can sell scrap metal and adding requirements that buyers only purchase from registered sellers;
- Beefing up border controls;
- Prohibiting the use of cash in scrap metal transactions;
- Black-listing offenders.
The DTIC noted that these measures would lead to a material reduction in the theft of metal from the country’s infrastructure, including its energy and transport infrastructure.
The department added that because these interventions will divert significant volumes of scrap metal in the local market, it will also lead to lower prices, which will likely disincentivise theft.
Read: Oil supply cuts spark worry over fuel prices in South Africa