Copper cables theft riles Southern Africa states

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By Sinikiwe Marodza

Copper cable theft is an enemy of progress within the SADC region which calls for a serious stakeholder engagement in dealing with criminals surrounding the issue, Zimbabwean Minister of Energy and Power development, Jorum Gumbo, has said.

According to the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (SACCI) copper theft barometer, copper theft costs South Africa’s economy between R5 billion ($415 million) and R7 billion ($581 million) a year and replacing stolen copper cables alone costs Eskom in the region of R2 billion ($166 million) a year.

Zimbabwe's power utility, Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution  Corporation (ZEDTC) lost $3.7 million in the first 10 months of 2018 to the same problem and the country’s leading fixed telephone operator Telone has also lost over $1 million worth of telephone cables in 2018.

Botswana Telecommunications Corporations (BTC) is also a victim of the same issue. As stated by the telecommunications company, between 2006 and to date, BTC lost a hefty amount of pulas due to the same problem.

Namibia’s telecommunications company, Telecom, has also been affected by the same vice.

South Africa appears to have a ready market for copper cables sold across the region.

Despite Zimbabwe’s seemingly deterrent 10 year jail term for anyone caught with copper cables and forfeiting of cars or houses found with suspected copper cables during the past years, there has been no satisfying change on the rate of copper cables theft cases.

Gumbo has, however, pledged to come up with more solutions that will deal with the issue once and for all.

“There has been no copper mining in Zimbabwe since the closure of Mhangura Copper Mine in 1999 and one wonders where the copper dealers are sourcing the mineral.

“It is evident that they are 'mining' it from the infrastructure of public utilities, which calls for the need for serious stakeholder engagement so that this vice is nipped in the bud once and for all,” Gumbo said.

He added that his ministry would review all the measures that were put in place in terms of dealing with copper cables criminals.

“It is regrettable that in 2018, the scourge of theft and vandalism contributed to a total loss of $3 684 679 and the power utility only managed to recover $479 615 worth of materials and equipment as at November 30 2018.

“My ministry is looking forward to receiving a full report of the measures that have been put in place to improve the security of transformers and other infrastructure.

“I am, however, happy that a total of 133 arrests were made and 20 convictions (207 years and 560 hours of community service) were achieved through the courts,” Gumbo said.

In South Africa, according to Eskom’s Security Risk Management Division, despite an intelligence-driven investigation by the Hawks (A division of the South African Police Services) which encompasses aggressive policing of the scrap metal market for stolen goods, copper theft remains a serious concern.

Eskom, however, believes that governments must not stop improving legislation and toughening sentences so as to do away with the copper theft issue.

ZETDC says it is time for the SADC region to move a step further in terms of protecting and dealing with copper cable theft.

The compan's communications manager, Fullard Gwasira, said the region must adopt advanced measures like Indian Internet of Things (IoT) which has transformed everyday life, business applications and the global economy.

“It’s time to move forward, I believe that adopting measures like loT can be of great use.

“IoT offers huge potential when applied to the challenge of copper cable theft. By placing devices embedded with sensors along the trackside cables, operators would be able to detect the current flowing through the wire.

“If a cable is hacked, the closest device would detect a loss of power at a specific point and automatically alert the authorities of the location and time of the loss of power,” he said

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