Fourteen suspects, including a scrap metal dealer and security personnel, were arrested when a team comprising police, the Hawks and Eskom investigators swooped on an alleged cable theft syndicate in Mpumalanga this week.
Large volumes of stolen aluminium and copper cables were found stored on multiple premises in the Vosman area, said Eskom.
An intense investigation was opened when, over the past week, the electricity utility was hit by a spate of theft and vandalism on the 400KV Vulcan Transmission line in the region.
Customers pay the price for such crimes
“The repeated crime incidents contributed to Eskom having to declare a ‘major incident’ as a result of the extensive damage, loss of supply to thousands of customers and increased safety risks,” Eskom said.
“Towers on the line were twisted and severely damaged. The roads in the region were blocked with the fallen electrical lines, which also put lives in danger.”
The investigating team swooped on a scrap metal dealership in Emalahleni, where they found a truck driver allegedly ready to offload a large amount of stolen copper cables. The driver was arrested.
More copper cables prepared and ready for shipment were found at a residential property in Vosman.
“Further investigations revealed that some security personnel deployed to protect the Eskom line were also involved with the syndicate,” said the utility.
Eskom’s head of security, Adv Karen Pillay, said: “Cable theft continuously affects business operations and hampers the provision of basic essential services to industry and to communities.”
Between Eskom, Transnet, Prasa and Telkom, the direct losses incurred amounted to more than R7bn a year, she said. The knock-on effects to the economy are estimated at R187bn.
“Such levels of criminality undermine the ability of the state-owned companies to deliver the much-needed services such as electricity, rail, communications and other critical infrastructure.
“This exacerbates localised power cuts and the implementation of load-shedding. This poses a significant and direct impact on the recovery of the SA economy.”
Eskom’s acting CEO, Calib Cassim, said: “This is economic sabotage of the highest degree.
“The perpetrators of such crimes must be brought to book and dealt the full might of the law.
“Customers pay the price for such crimes through increased tariffs.
“We shall pursue the investigations together with the Hawks and shall intensify operations against the syndicates, ensuring that they are disrupted.
“We shall assist the Hawks in tracing every individual who participates in the criminal enterprise and ensure prosecution.”
Eskom urged all scrap metal dealers, foundries and smelters to refrain from buying stolen cables, while anyone who witnesses suspicious activities is asked to contact the Eskom Crime Line number on 0800-11-27-22, or to call the Crime Stop Hotline on 086-0010111.
The Mpumalanga raids follow recent arrests at scrap dealerships in Makhanda in the Eastern Cape and in Krugersdorp, Gauteng.