A multidisciplinary team set up to combat cable theft has arrested 28 thieves since its inception, and only three have been sentenced to prison terms.
“Two defendants were found guilty and both sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, on the first count and one year on the second count,” police minister Bheki Cele wrote in a statement. answer to questions of the National Assembly.
He added that another had been convicted, sentenced to 12 years in direct imprisonment and found unfit to own a firearm.
The task force was established in May 2020 to tackle cable theft at Eskom and is made up of the following actors from the South African Police Service (SAPS):
- The Detective and Forensic Services Division
- The Crime Intelligence Division
- The Visible Policing and Operations Division
- The communication and institutional liaison component
- The strategic management component
- The Department of Priority Criminal Investigations (DPCI)
Actors outside SAPS include the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and Eskom.
The task force drafted an action plan to combat cable theft crimes, focusing on two types of perpetrators – organized and opportunistic criminals.
According to Cele, organized (or syndicated) criminals target the quantities that will yield the most value, while opportunistic criminals target smaller quantities to meet their immediate needs.
The objectives of the action plan are to:
- Preventing, combating and investigating priority national offenses
- Ensure the availability of reliable and validated information on crime
- Ensure effective and efficient investigations
- Ensure there is effective support during the investigation of a crime
- Provide specialized response capability
Copper cable theft has been a major contributor to power outages in recent years.
In November 2021, residents of Bedfordview suffered a power outage lasting several days after a critical power cable is damaged in a failed attempt to steal it.
The damaged cable interrupted the power supply to Bedfordview substation in the town of Ekurhuleni.
“Eskom has been working around the clock to locate the point where the cable theft occurred, assess the extent of the damage caused and prepare for repairs,” Eskom said in a statement.
“Due to the extent of the damage caused by the attempted cable theft and the vandalism of the electrical infrastructure, it is estimated that power could be restored within four to five days.”
Eskom added that it had reported the incident to SAPS.
Electric utility workers have also been to blame for the theft of cables recently. A An Eskom employee and contractor have been arrested at Welkom, Free State, for having in their possession a large quantity of copper cable.
“Thanks to the vigilance of a patrolling police captain from the Welkom K9 unit, the two suspects were arrested and a 170 meter copper cable with an estimated value of R540,000 was confiscated,” said Eskom in November.
“It is suspected that the copper cable was stolen from Eskom’s warehouse in Welkom.”
The arrests came after Eskom CEO André de Ruyter revealed that criminal elements were trying to sabotage the electric utility.
In February 2021, five cable thieves received a cumulative prison sentence of 1,250 years for fifty counts of theft of copper cables.
“The shortest prison sentence given to some of the robbers is a minimum sentence of 15 years,” Eskom said after the sentencing.
“Two other defendants who were charged in the same case died during the trial and were convicted posthumously,” he added.
Eskom’s acting head of security, Karen Pillay, said the utility hoped the heavy penalties would send a strong message to any would-be thieves to refrain from targeting overhead and underground power cables. ‘Eskom.