The Persistent Challenge of Copper Theft
In the heart of Mangaung Metro Municipality, an organized crime syndicate is thriving, focusing on copper and electrical fittings. This nefarious network is causing significant financial strain and infrastructural damage to Centlec, the municipality’s power distributor. This ongoing criminal activity has put Centlec’s ability to provide service in jeopardy, leading to financial losses amounting to millions.
The syndicate seems to have perfected the art of exploiting the rolling blackouts due to persistent load shedding, capitalizing on the situation to vandalize infrastructure with one clear aim: harvesting copper cables for sale to various scrap dealers.
High-Impact Crime Across the Metro
Incidents of such vandalism are rife across Bloemfontein, Botshabelo, and Thaba Nchu. In June alone, several instances of destruction and equipment theft were reported.
Centlec has revealed that the cost of the recent surge in theft and vandalism during June equated to around R1,2 million. Between April 2019 and March 2022, the figure amounted to an alarming R1,87 million.
Lele Mamatu, the spokesperson for Centlec, stated that these costs encompass the repair of damaged infrastructure and replacement of stolen copper cables. “These monies could have been spent to maintain and strengthen our network to ensure sustainable electricity supply to the community of Mangaung,” Mamatu noted. He further pointed out how the enterprise was being additionally crippled by illegal connections.
Copper Theft Affecting Healthcare Services
Copper thieves not only hamper electricity supply but also impede the ability of hospitals to provide essential services, consequently risking patients’ lives.
In the period from 1 January 2021 to 30 July 2022, Centlec reported a total of 88 incidents of theft and vandalism.
Legal Challenges and Past Convictions
Bringing the culprits to justice remains a daunting task. Mamatu revealed that from 1 April to 30 June 2023, seven cases were still pending.
Despite 210 cases reaching the court in Bloemfontein in the previous year, only three resulted in convictions and sentences of 18 months’ imprisonment.
The syndicate remains relentless, targeting crucial infrastructure belonging to public and private entities, including Centlec, MTN, Vodacom, Telkom, Cell- C, Eskom, Transnet, and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).