Brazen cop­per theft

In­side job sus­pected as four steal 20 me­tres of live ca­bles

The Witness - - FRONT PAGE - CHELSEA PIETERSE

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.

PHOTO: IAN CARBUTT

Pi­eter­mar­itzburg Elec­tric­ity’s Ron Kitchen ex­plains where the live cop­per ca­bles were cut at the Pel­ham substation yes­ter­day.

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