Following news reports of a would-be cable thief burning his skin off – literally – we did a little research about the real cost of cable theft in South Africa. We came across this article published by Creamer Media in 2018 and have adapted it for the purposes of examining the extent of the problem.
Google cable theft and up pops “cable theft in south africa..” which in itself tells the story.
Within minutes an experienced cable thief can make off with lengths of underground cable and all he needs is a pick and a bakkie. It is a simple operation. They chop the cable off on two ends, attach one end to the vehicle and simply drive off, pulling the length of cable from the ground, stopping to load the loot onto the vehicle.
The risk of arrest is minimal, because, by the time the victims realise there is a power failure and what the reason is, the thief and the cable would be gone.
The reward is very handsome. At R54/kg (in 2018) a well-organised team of cable thieves can earn up to R10 000 per night! With such a low barrier to entry, this makes it an attractive option for criminals.
For business owners who lose stock due to a broken cold chain, property developers who have to replace cables and therefore suffer cost overruns and schedule delays and the municipality that has to deal with communities left in the dark, this is, however, a costly and increasing problem.
Cable theft costs the South African economy an estimated R7 billion per year and efforts to combat it have not yet paid off on any significant scale. The replacement cost of the same 1 km length of cable that earns the criminal R10 000, could amount up to R1.2 million, excluding installation and consequential costs.
This does not account for the lives lost, loss of income for families whose loved ones are either convicted or killed or the real and present danger to security guards at vulnerable sites.