Joburg wants Ramaphosa to deploy the army

 ·9 May 2024

The City of Johannesburg’s (COJ) state-owned power utility City Power has requested military intervention in hopes of tackling theft and vandalism of its electricity infrastructure.

City Power say that it cannot match the levels of sophistication of many of those involved in copper theft on its own.

The Sunday Times reported earlier this week that City Power CEO Tshifularo Mashava wrote to the national police commissioner, Lt-Gen Fannie Masemola, appealing to him to bring in the army to stop theft and vandalism crippling the city’s power-supply infrastructure. 

“The situation is bad… what we are actually seeing is that these people who attack the network are highly sophisticated and militarised – the type of firearms which they carry, we cannot withstand it,” head of risk and security at City Power, Sergeant Thela, told Newzroom Afrika.

“Our understanding is that we as City Power and the City of Johannesburg cannot deal with this particular phenomenon ourselves only, but we need to get all hands on deck,” he added.

In her letter to the police commissioner, Mashava described cable theft and vandalism in the city as “escalating unabatedly” and said it poses a significant threat to the stability of its power supply.

Mashava revealed that, due to breakdowns and crime, City Power had used a year’s worth of replacement parts in just three months, costing them more than R160 million for the current financial year.

This call for military intervention comes after attempted cable theft ignited a large fire underneath the M1 highway, resulting in large areas of the metro suffering extended power outages, with repairs expected to take weeks to complete.

The illicit trade of copper has been booming in South Africa.

The mineral, the second-best conductor of electricity behind silver, is in high demand – especially among criminal syndicates as it is easily traded and widely used in various sectors, including water, rail, fuel and oil, communications, electricity, military, health, vehicle production, and more.

According to the Economic Sabotage of Critical Infrastructure Forum, the theft of copper in South Africa is estimated to cost the country R46.5 billion a year 

This has led to Eskom deciding to phase out the use of copper.

Thela cited President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision at the tail end of 2023 to deploy the military to tackle illegal mining as a precedence for such a move to deploy the army to Johannesburg.

“Illegal mining is actually a twin brother of this copper cable theft [as] what normally happens is that most of these criminal elements when they are getting displaced from the illegal mining then they find refuge in our electricity network infrastructure because it becomes a matter of survival,” claimed Thela.

According to a report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, copper theft largely falls into two categories – organised crime syndicates who commit large-scale theft, and petty or subsistence thieves who steal only what they need.

Read: The ‘truth’ behind no load shedding – according to Andre De Ruyter

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