Mitchell’s Plain residents are being harmed and robbed as criminals are digging up and gutting street light poles, leaving the community in darkness and without electricity.
Solomon Philander, councillor for Eastridge and parts of Beacon Valley and chairman of Wolfgat Sub-council, said: “Mitchell’s Plain is being broken up piece by piece.”
He said in the past two years about R500 000 was spent on fixing the street lights in the main roads of Mitchell’s Plain, including AZ Berman Drive, Spine, Wespoort and Morgenster roads and Highlands Drive.
Mr Philander said in recent weeks as soon as they replace light bulbs, wiring or poles it is vandalised and stolen within hours.
“These criminals are digging up cables underground and the poles – leaving the place in total darkness,” he said.
Mr Philander said one day he received a message of thanks for lights fixed in Alpine Road. The next morning it was vandalised.
He said with the lighting infrastructure being vandalised, cars were also being broken into and the scheduled two-hourly load shedding stints became permanent –making it the opportune time for crime to be committed.
Mr Philander said residents should report criminals digging and stealing cables just like they report street lights not working. “Alert law enforcement. Expose the criminals. Many a time the lights are off because of vandalism,” he said.
Mr Philander also said the community should expose those buying and selling stolen property. “Our mothers and parents who walk to the bus stop or home at night and during the early hours are in danger when the area is dark,” he stressed.
Herman Bartie, a community worker in Tafelsig, said in Freedom Park they reported street lights not working in February – they are still in darkness. “This is a high-risk, crime-ridden area,” he said.
Phindile Maxiti, mayoral committee member for energy and climate change, said regular vandalism and theft of electricity infrastructure was the cause of ongoing street light outages in Freedom Park, Tafelsig and surrounding areas in Tafelsig.
“Electricity infrastructure in Tafelsig is vandalised regularly, and staff and service providers have to repair the same infrastructure constantly. Repair work has been carried out in a number of areas in Tafelsig,” he said.
Mr Maxiti said replacing infrastructure was “simply unsustainable”.
“We call on residents to assist the City by reporting suspicious activity to the City or to the South African Police Service (SAPS). The SAPS remains the lead authority in crime prevention,” he said.
He said the City’s electricity teams repair vandalised and stolen electricity infrastructure as soon as it is able to, however, the repeated incidents of theft and vandalism have a severe impact on the City’s resources.
Mr Maxiti said in hot spot areas across the metro, security details such as City law enforcement or the SAPS were appointed to accompany staff and contractors to enable them to do repair work to electricity infrastructure damaged by vandalism, theft and illegal connections.
“The City is looking at all available options to protect electricity infrastructure from the severe cases of vandalism that is happening across the metro.
“Unfortunately, incidents of vandalism and theft have increased since the start of the national lockdown last year,” said Mr Maxiti.
Norman Jantjes, Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum chairman, said street lighting was the responsibility of the municipality, that they ensure that infrastructure is replaced with “vandal proof” poles, cables and lights; and that they should monitor it.
He said in general Mitchell’s Plain residents took care of their community and that the criminals were in the minority.
“The community must play their role and understand that the less vandalism there is the less crime there will be.
“In darkness the crime rate goes up and we can’t use our stoves and televisions,” he said.
Mr Jantjes encouraged the council to work closely with the community and to strengthen the partnership with residents so they will take ownership and take care of City infrastructure.
“It should be a partnership whereby the community will realise its importance in its decision-making and planning. They will then make more of an effort to protect infrastructure,” he said.
Wayne Dyason, spokesperson for City law enforcement, said they have a dedicated unit dealing with cable theft, who have had numerous successes but the problem is ubiquitous and widespread.
“In many communities members of the public serve as our eyes and ears and give us useful information that result in these cable thieves being caught red-handed or it leads us to premises where stolen cable is stored.
“These include some bucket shops and even established scrap metal dealers,” he said.
Mr Dyason said they have directed increased resources at the problem but required more of the community’s input as to where it is occurring.
Mitchell’s Plain police station spokesman, Captain Ian Williams, said Freedom Park has been identified as a crime hot spot and that they have increased visibility and operations in the area because of gang-related shooting incidents.
He said they have stepped up patrols with the sector commander, Captain Raymond Solomons and neighbourhood watch members.
“SAPS Crime Prevention Unit and Law Enforcement Advancement Plan (LEAP) officers are active in the area daily,“ he said.
Captain Williams said that they do not escort electricians to sites as the City has its own security teams and do not have any record of such requests.
“Most of the reports of tampering with infrastructure have been emanating along the railway lines, from Mitchell’s Plain to Kapteinsklip train station,” he said.
Captain Williams said while there may have been incidents of vandalising and tampering of electrical infrastructure in residential areas they have not yet received such complaints.
To report damage to municipal electrical infrastructure, SMS 31220 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Residents can make anonymous tip-offs if they are aware of illegal activity, such as illegal connections that are taking place; that has happened or is still to happen by calling 112 from a cellphone (toll free) and 107 from a landline or 021 480 7700 for emergencies.