The City of Johannesburg said on Friday that its electricity infrastructure is being pilfered by armed criminal syndicates “on an industrial scale”, threatening the ability of South Africa’s biggest city to provide reliable power to its millions of residents.
In a statement, the city, which is run by a coalition of political parties following the 2021 municipal polls, said criminal groups have become well-resourced and organised.
“It is no longer just theft but robbery on a grand scale,” said councillor Michael Sun, the MMC for the city’s infrastructure environment service department. He said that in the latest incident, two security guards were held at gunpoint at City Power’s Cydna substation near Norwood at 4am on Wednesday after being attacked by a gang armed with high-calibre assault rifles driving unmarked 4x4s.
After overpowering the guards, the criminal gang made off with several hundred kilograms of underground copper cabling, using their vehicles to rip the infrastructure out of the ground.
According to the city, since July 2021, 1 456 cases of vandalism and cable theft have been reported to City Power, costing the municipal utility R24-million in damages and repairs.
Confrontations between City Power security and criminals are occurring on an almost daily basis at substations and other infrastructure points around Johannesburg. Hotspots include Lenasia, Alexandra, Northriding, Mulbarton, Ennerdale, Nasrec and Roodepoort, Sun said.
“The situation is exacerbated by the fact that most of the city’s cable servitudes pass through open fields, making them vulnerable to theft.”
Urgent intervention needed
Sun said the city will improve security at these hotspots, adding personnel and installing CCTV to act as an early warning system.
“But the simple fact is that if we don’t have an urgent intervention from the South African Police Service on this issue, it will remain a critical challenge to providing reliable electricity to Johannesburg residents. It is only the SAPS that can investigate these criminals and the National Prosecuting Authority that can prosecute them,” said Sun in the statement.
“Cable theft is responsible for most of our outages in the city, and causes major disruptions to the Johannesburg energy grid.” — © 2022 NewsCentral Media