City infrastructure pillage: Cable theft costs Johannesburg power entity R380m in eight months

More than 400 cases of cable theft reported in three months, averaging about five a day

23 February 2023 - 11:21
City Power says cable theft is threatening the stability of Joburg's power supply.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE/SOWETAN City Power says cable theft is threatening the stability of Joburg's power supply.

Johannesburg’s power entity has spent R380m in the past eight months repairing damaged electricity infrastructure caused by brazen criminals stealing cables.

City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena told TimesLIVE 444 cases of cable theft were reported from December-February. This is an average of about five cases a day. January accounted for the highest number of cable thefts with 202 reported cases.

“Our current cost of theft and vandalism is about R380m [from July-February],” Mangena said

He said the entity had a reoccurring cable theft problem, adding that if not curbed it could lead to a collapse in revenue and have a cascading effect on other critical infrastructure such as hospitals.

“Infrastructure such as water, sanitation, health (hospitals and clinics), road traffic signals, telecommunications, financial and banking sectors, security services and businesses all depend on sustainable electricity supply.”

City Power infrastructure in Roodepoort, Lenasia, Johannesburg inner city, Alexandra, Hursthill and Randburg have been hit most by cable theft.

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Roodepoort residents say criminals use the cover of load-shedding to steal cables undetected.

“In the Roodepoort area we had three of our major substations badly vandalised and copper cables stolen during load-shedding. The blanket of darkness that envelopes an area during load-shedding provides good cover for the criminals. They cannot be easily detected by security personnel, law enforcement agencies or community patrollers,” Mangena said.

At the weekend, 16 people were arrested for cable theft. Among those recently arrested were two employees of a City Power contractor.

Mangena said these arrests were possible through working closely with police, security companies, communities, businesses and using security intelligence capability strategies to save what is left of the infrastructure. 

“From January 2022 to December 2022, 15 suspects were convicted and sentences were collectively 114 years' direct imprisonment. More than 92 cases are currently active and our team of security experts are constantly in courts providing testimonies.”

Due to the attractiveness of copper cables in the scrap selling business, Mangena said the entity had started replacing copper with other metal elements.

“City Power adopted a strategy in which all cable replacement — be it equipment failure, cable theft or new service connections — are done with aluminium cable. This has a less scrap value and it discourages thieving.”

Mangena said the entity was encouraged by Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi’s recently announced plans to fight crime.

“We are of the view that electricity network infrastructure is the catalyst and lifeblood for economic growth. We will therefore explore and exploit every opportunity out there that can assist us to create and maintain a condition of security for our electricity network infrastructure.”

Tshwane also has a major problem with cable theft. In January, residents of a popular estate in Pretoria, The Blyde Riverwalk, were affected by long-lasting power outages primarily caused by cable theft. Some residents threatened to leave the estate as they have suffered from the problem for more than four years.

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