Theft of Eskom infrastructure including copper cables, overhead lines, transformers and conductors, among others, remains a serious concern for the power utility, Eskom’s Security Risk Management Division.

Eskom, along with other state-owned entities such as Transnet, Telkom and municipalities, is plagued by infrastructure theft with the value of material stolen remaining a serious concern, as it is indicative of organised, syndicate-driven criminal activity in the copper theft environment.

According to the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s copper theft barometer, copper theft costs the economy between R5 billion ($415 million) and R7 billion ($581 million) a year.

Replacing stolen copper cables, alone, costs Eskom in the region of R2 billion ($166 million) a year.

According to the power utility’s Security Risk Management division, the fight against infrastructure theft is being addressed by means of intelligence-driven investigations by the Hawks, a division of the South African Police Services (SAPS), which encompasses aggressive policing of the scrap metal market for stolen goods.

The courts are also taking this crime seriously and significant sentences are being handed out to perpetrators. A joint industry working group, formed by Eskom, Transnet, Telkom, the SAPS, the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also continues to contribute positively in the fight against this crime.

In fact, of the 8,988 cable theft incidents reported between 2012 and 2016, there was a recorded 1,159 arrests made. This indicates that something is being done to avert this crime but it also indicates that a lot more can still be done to reduce the impact of this crime.

Eskom cited South Africa’s socio-economic climate; unemployment; and greed among other factors, as the main reasons for the increase in cable and copper theft.

Initiatives being put in place by the power utility to prevent such theft include, among others, replacing copper conductors with aluminium; placing unique markings on all

Eskom aluminium conductors; replacing all normal bolts on pylons with anti-theft bolts; engraving support lattices on steel pylons with Eskom’s name on the steel; installing alarms on overhead lines in such a way that if the line is cut or tampered with, the alarm goes off in the control room and the reaction unit is immediately dispatched to the location.

The Power utility said that the Criminal Matters Amendment Act, which came into effect this year, states that the minimum sentences for first-time copper thieves is three years and the maximum is 30 years for those involved in instigating or causing damage to infrastructure, which indicates the seriousness of this crime.

With improved legislation and tougher sentences, Eskom believes that the theft and vandalism to critical network infrastructure will ultimately cease.


Featured image: Stock