Counting the cost of cable theft

Clerance Trounce and Abdul Jappie show off the tools and cables that they found at the Rocklands Lookout Hill.

The escalation of cable theft and the vandalism of street lights in Mitchell’s Plain is alarming and negatively impact the economic development in the area.

According to a report by the City of Cape Town a huge amount of money is spent on replacing stolen cables and fixing street lights.

“The cost of vandalism with regard to electricity generation and distribution for the Mitchell’s Plain area alone over the last two years amounts to R3 272 620,09 in 2016 and so far R1 993 393,65 for 2017,” said Eddie Andrews, mayoral committee member for area south.

“The most important element fuelling this crime is the lucrative compensation for copper sales which can reach prices of up to R70 per kilogram,” Mr Andrews said, adding that the City started the metals theft unit commonly known as the Copperheads in 2007. This unit is dedicated to focusing on the policing and prevention of metals theft, explained Mr Andrews.

He said there were strategies in place in certain areas that have been identified as high-risk areas. “The most recent strategy is the amendment of the Air Quality By-law that allows law enforcement officers to not only issue fines to people who have illegal burnt, possess illegal burnt metals or sell illegally burnt metals, but are also able to confiscate such items,” he said.

Mr Andrews said the minimum prescribed sentence for an offender is three years and up to 30 years for theft and the damage or tampering of essential infrastructure which includes electricity supply.

Clarence Trounce of the Seaview Block Neighbourhood Wtch said Portland and Kapteinsklip station are the areas most targeted by criminals. “By four in the morning we (neighbourhood watch members) have to escort people to the station (Kapteinsklip) and to bus stops every day because people get robbed. These (Kapteinsklip station and the Rocklands Lookout Hill) are crime hot spots because criminals hide in the bushes and its dark,”he said.

Mr Trounce urged community members to work together with police to fight crime. “Police alone can’t fight crime. We need to come together – all the community stakeholders. I’m not saying people must join our patrols but when they see something wrong is happening they must report it to the police,”he said.

Mr Trounce showed the Plainsman some of the tools that are used by criminals to dig trenches to steal cables. “Look these are the spades and knives used by these criminals to dig trenches and cut the cables,”he said, showing the Plainsman three spades and four knives that he believed were used to do the job.

He said most of the cables were stolen at night.

Danny Christians, the councillor for Ward 81 (Rocklands, south of Chat Road and Portland, west of the railway line, Fifth Avenue, Cambridge Street, Trafalgar Way, Oxford Street, Oxford Road and Merrydale Avenue, south of Westpoort Drive, east of Eisleben Road and north of Spine Road), said cable theft has a huge impact on the economic development of the city. “The proposed redevelopment of Kapteinsklip station and Mnandi beach which including housing opportunities, commercial activities, general businesses to the level of informal trading will surely be affected if cable theft continues at the rate it is going now,” warned Mr Christians.

He said redevelopment in the precinct will have huge economic spin-offs for his ward and also impact on the coastal communities alongside False Bay. “I believe that economic opportunities on our coastline will address the social ills that exist within the communities. I therefore caution those that subject themselves to cable theft to be mindful that they perpetuate social evil and does not contribute to the economy of our country,” he said. Sheval Arendse, councillor for Ward 82 (Tafelsig, west of Waboomberg Close, Pappagaaiberg Close, Baviaanskloof Street, Bokkeveld Avenue, Olifantshoek Street, Waaihoek Street, Tafelberg Street, Theronsberg Street, Langeberg Avenue, Piketberg Street, Keeromberg Street, Cedarberg Street, Huguenot Street and the western parts of Wolfgat Nature Reserve) echoed Mr Christians sentiment’s that cable theft and vandalism have a detrimental effect on the economy and also society. “In each street you have a number of street lights which are not working. Once the street lights are fixed they (criminals) come and steal electrical wires again and that is a great concern. It costs the City about R600 per metre for an underground cable and R300 per metre for a street light to repair,” said Mr Arendse.

He said they are battling with the escalating of vandalism on cellphone towers.

Michael Pietersen, councillor for Ward 116 (Beacon Valley, Oval North Street and Trampoline Street, Mitchell’s Plain Industrial Area and Promenade Mall, Bongani, the Denell site, Ikwezi Park, west of Swartklip Road and Govan Mbeki Road, south of the R300 and east of the Railway Line, Lente Road and the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre, north of Highlands Street, Montrose Park) described cable theft as a huge challenge in his ward. “Most affected areas in my ward are public parks. Criminals steal cables to sell for quick money. And as long there is a market for it the situation will remain the same,” he said.

Mr Pietersen said monitoring of cable theft is a challenge because these activities happen at night time. “We need society to confront these culprits and those buying stolen goods. They must be reported and arrested,” he said, praising the neighbourhood watches for executing a great job.

Mitchell’s Plain Community Policing Forum chairperson, Abie Isaacs, said they condemn these acts of criminality in the community. “Any kind of crime has a negative impact on society and we condemn any kind of criminality with full force. We are working with all community stakeholders to fight this,” said Mr Isaacs. Mitchell’s Plain SAPS communications officer, Constable Nozuko Makwayiba, said the motive behind cable theft and vandalism of street lights is largely drug addiction. “The usage of drugs is what constantly drives the perpetrators to commit such crime; robberies especially at night,” she said.

Constable Makwayiba said they do awareness campaigns and imbizos to inform and educate people about common crimes. She said they have made arrests for cable theft and street light vandalism but refused to divulge the numbers. “Yes, there are arrests for robberies but unfortunately we cannot give statistics,” she said.

Eskom national spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe described cable theft as a nationwide problem and said it needs to stop because it affects the country’s economy. “Eskom had spend about R2 billion a year nationwide to replace stolen cables. And it doesn’t only affect our economy but also our lives because many people died because of illegal connections,” he said, adding that some people illegally connect electricity direct from street lamps.

He urged community members to work together with police and report all illegal connections and cable theft.