Shocking cable theft arrest and conviction statistics in South Africa

A multidisciplinary task team established to fight cable theft has arrested 28 thieves since its inception, and only three have been sentenced to jail time.

“Two accused were found guilty and both sentenced to three years imprisonment, on the first count and one year on the second count,” police minister Bheki Cele wrote in response to questions from the National Assembly.

He said another had been found guilty, sentenced to 12 years of direct imprisonment and declared unfit to possess a firearm.

The task team was established in May 2020 to address cable theft at Eskom and is made up of the following South African Police Sevice (SAPS) roleplayers:

  • The Detective and Forensic Services division
  • The Crime Intelligence division
  • The Visible Policing and Operations division
  • The Corporate Communication and Liason Component
  • The Strategic Management Component
  • The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI)

Roleplayers external to the SAPS include the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and Eskom.

The Task Team drafted an action plan to address cable theft crimes, focussing on two types of perpetrators — organised and opportunistic criminals.

Bheki Cele, Minister of Police

According to Cele, organised (or syndicate) criminals target quantities that will return the most value, while opportunistic criminals target smaller amounts to satisfy their immediate needs.

The action plan’s objectives are to:

  • Prevent, combat, and investigate national priority offences
  • Ensure the availability of reliable and validated crime information
  • Ensure effective and efficient investigations
  • Make sure there is effective support during the investigation of a crime
  • Provide a specialised response capability

Copper cables theft has significantly contributed to power cuts in recent years.

In November 2021, residents in Bedfordview suffered a days-long power outage after a critical power cable was damaged in a failed attempt to steal it.

The damaged cable interrupted the power supply to the City of Ekurhuleni’s Bedfordview substation.

“Eskom has been working around the clock to locate the point where the cable theft occurred, assessing the extent of the damage caused, and preparing for repairs,” Eskom said in a statement.

“Due to the extent of the damage caused by the attempted cable theft and vandalism of the electricity infrastructure, it is estimated that supply could be restored within four to five days.”

Andre de Ruyter
André de Ruyter, Eskom CEO

Eskom added that it had reported the incident to the SAPS.

The power utility’s employees have also been to blame for cable theft recently. An Eskom employee and contractor were arrested in Welkom, Free State, for having a large quantity of copper cable in their possession.

“Thanks to the vigilance of a patrolling Police Captain from the Welkom K9 Unit, the two suspects were arrested, and copper cable of 170 metres with an estimated value of R540,000 was confiscated,” Eskom said in November.

“It is suspected that the copper cable was stolen from Eskom’s warehouse in Welkom.”

The arrests came after Eskom CEO André de Ruyter revealed that criminal elements were attempting to sabotage the power utility.

In February 2021, five cable thieves received a cumulative jail sentence of 1,250 years for fifty counts of copper cable theft-related charges.

“The shortest jail term meted out to some of the thieves is a minimum sentence of 15 years,” Eskom stated following the sentencing.

“Two other accused who were charged in the same matter died during the trial, and were found guilty posthumously,” it added.

Eskom’s Acting Security Head Karen Pillay said the utility hoped the hefty sentences would send a strong message to all potential thieves to refrain from targeting Eskom overhead and underground conductor cables.

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Shocking cable theft arrest and conviction statistics in South Africa