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The alleged thieves arrested; Damaged pipes from the underground power network; Joburg mayor Mashaba
Johannesburg

Copper thieves rip out power cables bringing Johannesburg to a complete halt

Much of the Johannesburg city center was a ghost town this week after copper cables were ripped out underground. It appears that robbers had stolen "several kilometres of underground copper cables" last weekend.

Published: September 8, 2017, 8:05 am

    FWM visited the High Court in the city centre as well as the Carlton Centre where everything was shuttered and security guards were manning all entrances to the building. No one was allowed to enter or exit.

    The lawlessness in South Africa has reached such a severe degree that cable theft has now become virtually a daily phenomenon. Our FWM correspondent witnessed the chaos firsthand, also at the High Court of Gauteng.

    Cable theft accounts for more than 45 per cent of the power outages in the City of Johannesburg, sabotaging the economy, leaving businesses and homes in the dark, costing ratepayers a fortune.

    According to a spokesman for City Power, the utility company providing power to the city, the thieves gained access to underground tunnels in which cables are housed last Sunday. First, the cables were burned to cause an electrical short circuit that would cause fuses to switch off the entire network. It then became safe for the thieves to cut and strip the entire electrical cable network of the city centre.

    A major part of the city center was struck by a power failure, from the Carlton Center to Selby Street. The country’s busiest court, the Supreme Court, Gauteng’s regional division in Pritchard Street, was hit too and tried to continue with the help of emergency power generators from the beginning of the week.

    However, on Wednesday, at lunch time, the diesel ran out and courtrooms, judges, advocates and attorneys were suddenly shrouded in darkness. Several urgent issues had to be delayed until later this week, in the hope that the power supply would be restored. All court proceedings were halted.

    All shops in the Carlton Center have been closed for a week, with security guards guarding entrances. The car park of the Carlton Center, Africa’s tallest building, was still open on Tuesday and the noise of the emergency power generators could be heard in the basement, with a heavy smell of diesel hanging in the air.

    With traffic lights out of order, huge traffic congestion plagued motorists and pedestrians alike. On Thursday City Power announced that the power grid would probably only be repaired by Saturday.

    On Monday night, fires were still raging in the tunnels, which prevented technicians from doing the necessary repairs.

    The magnitude of the damage caused by fires and cable theft has not yet been determined, but the tunnels in which cables are housed, according to Wayne Minnaar, superintendent of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police, is “nine kilometers long”.

    Minnaar apologized to all the furious clients of the municipality and said: “We are doing our best to resolve the situation as soon as possible.”

    Some 150 traffic police officers were deployed on short notice to help arrange the chaotic traffic.

    Via Twitter, FWM learned that the copper thieves had apparently been arrested. A picture of the mayor Herman Mashaba at the scene of a copper millyard site with the stolen goods appeared on social media.

    According to an email sent out by the municipality on Thursday afternoon to its clients, the power will not be repaired by Saturday, but only by Sunday due to the extent of the damage.

    A judge’s clerk at the Court, Elizabeth Boikanyo, told FWM the power outage had caused great disruption. “Many cases had to be postponed and caused a lot of disruption at the Court.” She added that some urgent proceedings could go ahead “thanks to allocated diesel supplies”. Some elevators were working in the Court building.

    The High Court judges expressed frustration as they left the building after the diesel ran out. One judge said that although it would be possible to hear cases in their chambers, it would not be professional to do so.

    The power cut will last until Sunday but it could be longer. A source at the municipality told FWM that the fire had created problems for the repair team.

    To combat ongoing cable theft, City Power said they were initiating a process of replacing copper conductor cables with aluminium conductor cables, as aluminium is of little to no value to cable thieves.

    A tip-off from a community member led to the recovery of a quantity of stolen cables and the arrest of the two perpetrators, both Muslims. These cables – stolen from underground tunnels running under the streets of the inner city – were found in the possession of the two scrapyard owners in Langlaagte.

    When the JMPD and police officers investigated, they found three drums loaded with stolen copper cables. The owners of the facility could not account for the content of the drums. It is alleged that more stolen cables are at two other scrapyards in Robertville,” said Mayor Mashaba.

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    • Jonas Van Die See

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