By Philiswa Mbanjwa

For a very long time, Joburg City Power has struggled with cable theft and vandalism. That is about to change as new and improved security measures have been put in place to combat the scourge.

The City of Johannesburg’s Environment and Infrastructure Services MMC, Jack Sekwaila, has secured R9 million to strengthen security. The power company announced it will embark on a project of replacing underground cables with overhead lines, making it difficult to steal cables.

The project will begin in the coming weeks, according to the utility’s CEO, Tshifularo Mashava. “We have already issued a tender, and we intend to deploy the new security plan, which includes technology, by April,” Mashava said. Mashava added that, in the meantime, as part of its short-term interventions, City Power plans to remove shrubs in areas where cables run to improve visibility. Streetlights that have been vandalized or broken will also be repaired.

Mashava also stated that load-shedding encourages cable theft. “We did not design our infrastructure to accommodate load shedding. As a result, whenever we have load shedding, parts of our network are damaged. Criminals also use load shedding to steal and damage infrastructure, which is critical in delivering power,” she stated.

The utility announced in February that it has begun to replace copper with other metal materials due to the high demand for copper cables in the scrap-selling business. “City Power implemented a strategy in which all cable replacement, whether due to equipment failure, cable theft, or new service connections, is done with aluminum cable. “This has a lower scrap value and discourages thievery,” said Isaac Mangena, the utility’s spokesperson.

Cable theft has become a daily occurrence in the city, with communities bearing the brunt of the consequences. There have recently been 25 reports of cable theft and vandalism. Residents of Roodepoort were left in the dark after the substation exploded. This was caused by criminals attempting to steal cables from the Peter Road substation, according to City Power. In another incident, a man was allegedly burned in the face while attempting to steal cables in Alexandra.

“City Power teams and contractors were busy on-site trenching to repair a cable fault near the Alexandra substation when the suspect tried to cut and steal a copper cable a few meters away,” Mangena explained. “The suspect did not know that some of the cables were active at the time of his acts and
were supplying electricity to customers. The suspect was primarily burned on his upper body, including his face, when the cable blew up,” he added.

Residents of Pimville, who are also plagued by the ongoing theft of cables, welcomed City Power’s statement that it would be stepping up security with a sigh of relief because the pandemic of cable theft damages both towns and businesses. “We experience three to four days without electricity as a result of cable theft, so this is extremely excellent news, maybe it will have an impact,” said Amatha Mhlaba, a local.
“We really welcome the efforts, and perhaps they will also add protection in hot spot areas, said another neighbor, Sithembiso Tinana, who noted that “not a week goes by without seeing tales of cable theft.”

According to Eric Ndlovu of a Pimville ward committee the issue “won’t go away as long as scrapyards keep buying stolen cables. “This kind of crime should carry a life sentence; undermining a nation’s economy in this way should be considered treason. And those scrap yards that purchase the stolen copper should be subject to the same rules,” added Ndlovu.

Also, he claimed that this security increase wouldn’t make a difference it would be far simpler for criminals to climb and cut cables than it would be for them to dig underground. Despite several arrests of the offenders and other initiatives, cable theft is still rampant throughout the city.

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