The Sunday Mail
CASES of theft of copper cables and vandalism of Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) equipment have once again surged as the global appetite for the metal has suddenly increased.
According to information provided by ZESA, the power utility company recorded 1 200 cases of theft and vandalism of transformers and electrical cables in 2021.
This resulted in a total loss of more than US$4 million in the process. The power utility is worried as the unfortunate trend is going out of hand despite several strategies being adopted to curb the crimes. ZESA reports that at least 500 cases of theft and vandalism have been recorded in the first quarter of this year, which is almost half the total cases recorded last year. The property lost is said to be worth more than US$904 000.
“The figures are increasing, and, to us, this is a worrying trend,” said ZESA Stakeholders Relations.
Theft and vandalism of ZESA property have resulted in some areas going for long periods without electricity. The Zimbabwe Republic Police is equally concerned about the rise in theft and vandalism of ZESA property.
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said such crimes were more prevalent in Bulawayo, Matabeleland South and Mashonaland Central. Recently, police recovered copper cables in Matabeleland South, when the driver of a lorry abandoned his vehicle after he was stopped at a roadblock.
Asst Comm Nyathi said police officers are working round the clock to bring the culprits to book.
“Copper cable thieves are being arrested and brought before the courts. We, however, feel that a lot must be done to curb these crimes. There is a ready market for copper cables and we are appealing to the public to give us more information so that we deal with the menace,” Asst Comm Nyathi said.
Locally, a tonne of copper fetches between US$3 000 and US$4 000. The price can be higher depending on the market.
It is understood that most of the stolen copper is illegally exported to neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Zambia, where criminals allegedly further direct it to Asia.
Information gathered by this publication shows that the majority of cases of theft and vandalism of ZESA property involve both current and former power utility employees.
Earlier this year, a gang that had a ZESA employee in its ranks was arrested in Bulawayo for theft of copper cables.
Denford Moyo, a former ZESA employee, was recently sentenced to 12 years in jail after he was found in possession of stolen copper cables and other power items. Moyo, who is serving his sentence at the Harare Central Prison, gave an insight into the criminal operations.
“In our gang, we had both ZESA employees and other criminals who were not employed by the company. Those who were employed by ZESA often gave inside information on potential targets for the products,” Moyo said.
The convict said his gang was busted after it failed to reach an agreement with a potential buyer, prompting him to keep the stolen goods at his home. Moyo and a part of his gang were busted by the police following an anonymous tip-off.
In Bulawayo, three cases of theft of copper cables were reported within a space of a day at the Queens Park Police Station in March.
Hillside and Tshabalala police stations recorded at least a case of theft each.
Some of the copper cables are exported directly by the culprits to ready markets in South Africa. In some cases, the criminals sell the merchandise to local dealers, who later export it in bulk.
Recently, this publication linked up with Mathias (full name withheld), a well-known scrap metal dealer who operates in Highfield and Magaba, Mbare.
Mathias said after buying the copper, he makes sure he delivers the stolen items to his buyers without involving third parties.
“Dealing in copper cables is a dangerous thing, which can land me in jail, so I do not want to take risks. I will have to ferry the copper myself,” he said.
TelOne and National Railways of Zimbabwe have also not been spared in this ordeal.
In 2020, TelOne was reported to have lost at least $50 million in revenue following vandalism of its equipment.
This disrupted service delivery, affecting more than 50 000 subscribers.
Harare Residents Trust director Mr Precious Shumba said punitive measures should be put in place to deter would-be offenders.
“Residents are the ones who always pay the price because it takes ages for replacements to be installed. In some cases, the residents are asked to financially contribute towards the replacements. The authorities need to introduce severe penalties,” Mr Shumba said.
By stealing cables and vandalising equipment, the criminals are violating Section 60A (b) of the Electricity Act.
The mandatory sentence for criminals convicted of theft of power cables and transformers is 10 years. ZESA wants the mandatory sentence to be increased to 30 years to curb the vice. The power utility said it is alive to the need to safeguard national infrastructure as this is key to national development and the attainment of Vision 2030 goals.
ZESA recently introduced a number of measures aimed at curbing theft and vandalism of its property. They include the use of surveillance systems and anti-intrusion technology. The company is also conducting joint anti-vandalism community engagement programmes. The company’s Stake holders Relations said the power utility is leaving no stone unturned in its quest to fight and reduce the theft and vandalism of its assets.
“We have successfully lobbied for amendments of the Electricity and Copper Control Act for punitive sentences to be effected,” said ZESA.