News / Africa

South Africa Cable Theft Hampers Economy

Emergency workers in attendance at the scene of a collision between two passenger trains near Pretoria, South Africa, January 31, 2013.Emergency workers in attendance at the scene of a collision between two passenger trains near Pretoria, South Africa, January 31, 2013.
x
Emergency workers in attendance at the scene of a collision between two passenger trains near Pretoria, South Africa, January 31, 2013.
Emergency workers in attendance at the scene of a collision between two passenger trains near Pretoria, South Africa, January 31, 2013.
Solenn Honorine
— South African investigators say cable theft caused January’s passenger train derailment near the capital, Pretoria - injuring about 200 people.  About 50 meters of electrical cables were stolen, shutting down the railway's automated signal system. Cable theft is estimated to cost more than a half billion dollars, to the South African economy every year. Each electrical, telecommunications or transport cable stolen can shut down economic activity in a vast area.  

Eunice Sethabakgomo's neighborhood could be a perfect ad for the government's efforts to help the poor since the fall of apartheid: neat rows of little brick houses line the paved streets in this modern looking village outside of Johannesburg. Everything works well here; except for the street lights.
 
“We have street lights, but they're no longer working. Since 2010, they stole the cables," complained Sethabakgomo. "It is a big problem, especially when the place is dark, that's when crime happens”

A couple of kilometers away, it's a different world, but with the same problem. Trevor D'Oliveira owns Avianto, a sprawling complex that specializes in Italian-themed weddings for the Johannesburg upper class. At all times, a camera is aimed at the electricity box that services the complex to try to prevent cable theft.
 
“We've had this cable stolen three times in the last seven years," said D'Oliveira. "Then it takes a day of two for being repaired, and during that time the generator has to run. To run that generator for a day is probably 3000 rands worth [$340] of diesel. Yet the amount of money the guys get for that piece of cable is probably just a couple hundred rands [$22].”
 
Cable theft is a massive problem throughout South Africa.  Most affected are the big agencies that provide the backbone of the South African economy: the telecommunications agency Telkom, the transport agency Transnet, and the electric company, Eskom.
 
Maboe Maphaka, senior manager at Eskom, estimates that cable theft costs his company $45 million a year - notwithstanding the damage to its image.  It costs the consumer quite a bit of money from power surges which can damage all equipment  -  computers, TVs, appliances - plugged in at the time.  

“When a customer comes down to Eskom to claim for a fridge that has burnt down, and Eskom comes back and say 'look, we can't pay you for this because of this, this and that, as customer you are aggrieved', and then Eskom becomes this uncaring organization," said Maphaka.
 
Five years ago, the city of Cape Town created a special unit nicknamed the Copperheads, to fight metal cable theft. Niels Arendse, its spokesperson, says they arrest on average 130 to 140 people every year.  
 
But he says the courts are not taking this crime seriously enough. In 2009 for example, his organization arrested 20 people from an organized group that was conspiring to steal cables. But they only received a warning from the courts.
 
The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry is lobbying for cable theft to be classified as economic sabotage, which would lead to tougher punishment for the culprits.
 
Neren Rau, the CEO of the chamber, says the move is essential to fight a crime that can slow down the economy: a cable stolen can mean businesses shut down for a day for lack of electricity, cut off internet or phone, trains stuck in a station.  Hence, Rau says, there is a disconnect between the relatively low value of the copper stolen and its global implication for businesses.
 
“Sadly, at the lowest level of theft, it's merely criminals that are trying to put food on the table," said Rau. "That's why in the past we've had difficulty prosecuting them, there was a lot of sympathy. But now that we're looking at the broad implication - we've had the derailment in Pretoria - it's a problem of the economy as a whole.”
 
The South African Chamber of Commerce is currently leading a study to evaluate the total cost to the economy. Neren Rau says it might be even higher than the current estimate of a half billion dollars a year.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid