Category Archives: Mathew Savides

Sunday Tribune: article on electricity connections

As is usual for newspaper articles on this issue this article conflates two entirely different projects carried out by different people for different purposed and with different results: (1) the popular appropriation of electricity by people denied it as a matter of explicit policy and (2) cable theft. And while dangerous connections are criticised safe underground connections are presented as just being cunning…rather than responsible…and of course no word on the state violence that often accompanies disconnections…

Wily thieves cause wire chaos

July 19, 2009 Edition 1


TEN million rands. This is how much electricity theft costs eThekwini Municipality ratepayers a month. And as winter sets in and temperatures drop across Durban, illegal electricity connections are booming.

The thieves also plunge communities into darkness, putting themselves and others at risk.

In the past year, more than R80m worth of electricity infrastructure, particularly copper cabling, was stolen. Add to this the R41m a year stolen by way of illegal connections and the extent of the problem becomes clear.

Traffic lights, street lights and connections to homes are affected.

While the municipality is putting measures in place to combat this, it is facing a massive task under tough circumstances.

Deena Govender of the municipality’s electricity department said the council was resorting to leaving lights burning throughout the day just to prevent the electricity theft – but even this was not effective.

“When we do this people complain that we’re wasting electricity. We’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said.

And thieves are getting more brazen – and, in some cases, smarter.

Power cut

Govender said some thieves broke into the sub-stations and stole from there, but there were more worrying cases, including one where a metal pole containing the cables was cut down with an axle grinder and the cables stolen.

Connections are no longer being made at ground level, but sometimes directly to the overhead power cables. In some cases, criminals were making below-ground connections and then cementing or filling the holes to cover their tracks.

And incidents like these had “shot up dramatically” in the past year, he said.

Not only is the frequency of the incidents increasing – in regard to theft of infrastructure and of electricity itself – but those employed to repair the damaged infrastructure or disconnect the illegal connections often come under fire or negative sentiment from locals.

“Our guys often… have to be accompanied by police, because they get shot at or sometimes get abused by the public,” he said.

Govender added that he was worried that some of the worst cases were not being properly reported.

“We have had a number of deaths (as a result of the illegal connections), most commonly among young children who come into contact with these (exposed) wires. In some cases the children get taken to local doctors who attribute the deaths to heart attacks or other secondary causes, and not electrocution. Some of these cases are just not being correctly reported,” he said.

Added to this, the illegal connections undermine all the standard safety measures and devices installed with normal connections.

“If these illegal connections are going to a shack, for example, it can actually cause a massive fire, because the network is not protected by the usual means,” Govender said.

The municipality’s Revenue Protection Department, which has been allocated R25m for the new financial year just for policing, has a dedicated team looking into this matter, but Govender said they would not be able to achieve huge successes without the assistance of the public. “People need to report illegal tampering (with the network), so we can act on it,” he said.