Brazen copper theft
Inside job suspected as four steal 20 metres of live cables
WELLORGANISED thieves stole 20 metres of live copper wire from the Pelham substation early yesterday, plunging several large complexes into darkness.
Late yesterday contractors were still trying to repair the damaged substation.
There are questions over how the thieves got into the substation as there were no signs of a forced entry.
It is understood that a marked Msunduzi vehicle had allegedly been spotted near the substation the previous night.
At about 2.40 am yesterday a security guard saw four men dressed in overalls with reflective tape entering the substation. They walked out with 20 metres of copper wiring and escaped into the nearby bushes.
The substation in Stalkers Alley is next to several complexes in Pelham.
Cwaka Hlophe, a security guard on night shift at Blairgowrie Gardens, said he heard noises just before 3 am.
“I came out of the complex and saw four men running down the road carrying the copper wires.
“One of the street lights was still on. They ran into the bushes at the bottom of the road,” he said.
Pietermaritzburg Electricity’s Ron Kitchen, who came to inspect the site yesterday afternoon, said it was “unbelievable” that the thieves had cut the live wires without turning the power off. “They knew what they were doing. I would never try what they did,” he said.
Kitchen said around 20 metres of thick copper cables, worth around R500 per metre, had been stolen.
Blairgowrie Gardens caretaker Arlene Tait said she was woken up at about 3 am by Hlophe, who alerted her to the theft. “I am so frustrated,” said Tait. “We don’t know when the cables will be repaired.
“People’s food in their fridges will go off and there are people in the complex with young babies and children studying for exams.”
The complex has 71 units, while three
“They [the thieves] knew what they were doing. I would never try what they did.”
other complexes in the same road have 30 units, 20 units and eight units.
The Witness has learned meanwhile that copper cable theft is on the rise in the Midlands, affecting farmers, businesses and the economy as a whole.
Transnet spokesperson Mike Asefovitz said the company lost R4,5 billion to copper theft in the 2016/2017 financial year in KZN.
So far this year they had already lost R2,1 million.
He added it gives South Africa a bad reputation as clients do not receive their goods on time, “forcing them to consider other alternatives”.
He said the company had invested in physical, technological and specialised security to try and combat this crime.
Areas such as Mooi River, Nottingham Road and Howick have been labelled as “hot spots”.
A source in the SAPS said police found Howick to be one of the hot spots with criminals mostly targeting the Eskom and Transnet lines.
The source said with the increase in copper theft, many scrap metal dealers had “sprung up” as they see it as a very lucrative market.
“Because of high levels of unemployment, people have realised that they can steal copper and sell it to scrap dealers just to survive.”
KwaZuluNatal Agricultural Union director Sandy la Marque said farmers are having the pivot lines for their irrigation systems dug up and stolen, as well as their Telkom and Eskom lines.
“The cost of doing business is affected, this includes time and cost delays,” said La Marque.
“The impact is severe as it leaves farms unable to function efficiently,” she added.
She said it was important for all incidents of cable theft to be reported and stricter measures of prevention implemented.
Once the copper has been stolen, it is sold to scrap metal dealers.
Scrap yards are, by law, supposed to keep copper for seven days along with the seller’s identity number and contact details. This has resulted in some scrap dealers moving their copper haul to other sites until the seven days are up and police have already inspected their site. The copper is then exported to India and China.
Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said late yesterday afternoon that the power would be restored by the end of the day
She said the municipality could not speculate on whether any staff members were involved in the theft “until we have concrete proof”.
Copper was being replaced with aluminium to combat the crime, she said.
Pietermaritzburg Electricity’s Ron Kitchen explains where the live copper cables were cut at the Pelham substation yesterday.