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Theft, vandalism cripple power supplies

DESPITE the massive improvement in energy generation and supply, domestic and business clients continue to suffer incessant power blackouts due to rampant theft and vandalism of electricity infrastructure, which cripples efficient service delivery.

The Government has invested millions of dollars in developing new energy generation and transmission infrastructure in the last five years, including repairs and attending to faults.

Zimbabwe is now energy secure following the recent official commissioning of the US$1,5 billion Hwange Thermal Power Station Units 7 and 8 Expansion projects, which has injected an additional 600Mw to the national grid, pushing total domestic output to about 1 500MW daily.

All this effort is being weighed down by continued vandalism and theft of energy infrastructure, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC), has said.

The Western region alone, which covers Bulawayo  and the Matabeleland provinces – north and south, has recorded 308 cases of vandalism of power infrastructure from March this year to date, said the utility.

While the police have managed to achieve 27 arrests with seven individuals being convicted, the level of damage and loss in monetary terms has clocked about US$784 805.00 within the region alone, said ZETDC.

It noted that among the major cases were those involving theft of copper cables, which is a dominant target with 245 arrests being made.

In an interview ZESA acting general manager for Western region, Engineer Lloyd Jaji, said the company was losing an average of US$87,200 monthly due to vandalism and theft.

“In  terms of assets copper conductors and transformer thefts and vandalism contribute greatly to the big loss. A total of 245 cases of copper were reported from March this year with a value of US$589 261.00, weighing 29 463.06 kgs,” he told the Chronicle.

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“Nine people have so far been arrested from these cases and only three have been convicted. In the case of transformers 30 cases have been recorded with a value of US$156 145.00. These are a total of 30 transformers. Eight arrests have been made from this and four people have been convicted.

“The cost of repairing the network and replacing vandalised equipment includes the current cost of equipment and the labour involved (an average of three times lost equipment).”

Eng Jaji said vandalism has become a cancer in society leading to unnecessary outages. Over and above the costs involved in fixing damaged infrastructure, he said ZETDC also suffers loss of revenue while clients suffer loss of production and lose their perishable goods.

“Clients are also left vulnerable to theft from premises as their security gadgets are disabled. Above all we are forced to commit more resources (labour transport and materials) on existing networks at a time we desperately need to expand the network and pick more clients,” said Eng Jaji.

He said while the power company has implemented a number of measures to curb the crimes, it was, however, experiencing setbacks due to several constraints.

The internal measures include the removal and replacement of copper with aluminum, target hardening, employment of new technologies such as drones and video cameras and CCTV, line patrols and equipment guarding.

The external measures include community and other stakeholder involvement such as neighbourhood watch committees, police and security agencies, said Eng Jaji.

“We have also launched programmes such as awareness campaigns with residents and the company is also lobbying for stiffer sentences for perpetrators and the cancellation of copper licences to dealers found in possession of ZETDC property,” he added.

Eng Jaji said through interrogations those arrested for vandalism have pointed to being enticed into copper theft by copper dealers. He said buyers of copper offer ready cash in hard currency to the vandals as an incentive.

“But at the end of the day they don’t divulge their buyers. Some buyers have been arrested before but the scourge still continues as most of the copper is being transported into neighbouring South Africa,” Eng Jaji said.

Quizzed on whether ZETDC employees contributed to the statistics of arrests, Eng Jaji said statistics in the Western region ruled out the involvement of any of the company’s staff.

“Fingers have been pointed at ZETDC employees, but current statistics in the Western region show that no ZETDC employee has been arrested and convicted yet. Allegations have been thrown around, but no employee has been arrested, prosecuted and convicted,” he said.

According to Section 10 (b) of the Act, any person who deals in, or has in his or her possession, stolen copper shall be guilty of dealing in or possession of stolen copper, as the case may be, and liable to imprisonment for a period not less than 10 years without the option of a fine.

The Act says that any person who unlawfully or intentionally deals in or possesses copper without a certificate of origin shall be guilty of an offence, and if there are no special circumstances peculiar to the case, be liable to imprisonment for a period not less than 10 years without the option of a fine.

Previously, a convicted person was liable to a fine not exceeding level eight or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or both fine and such imprisonment. However there have been calls for an extension on the penalty to a mandatory imprisonment of 30 years.

The Zesa boss, however, said the company during the month of September recorded a minimum of three cases while in 2022 alone the company recorded at least 48 arrests that contributed to 20 convictions. During the period 36 transformers with a value of US$152 800.00 were stolen and the company only managed to recover property worth US$47 500 while nine people were arrested and three were jailed 20 years each.

In 2021 ZETDC Western Region recorded a loss of US$1 009 992.60, with 421 cases being reported, said Eng Jaji. During the period he said 39 people were arrested and 11 were convicted for the crimes.

“We continue to discourage citizens from tampering with ZETDC property as this will likely lead to prosecution. We also applaud the public for their support in thwarting criminals and their activity,” he said.

He urged consumers to work closely with Zesa and the police to curb vandalism and theft saying some of the power outages being experienced in communities were a result of rampant vandalism and theft of electricity infrastructure as opposed to load shedding.

“The challenge is worsened by a weaker logistics arm that leaves Zesa workers incapacitated to respond to faults on time. Cable thieves take advantage of power outages to steal the components that they sell to scrap metal dealers, who export it or sell it to local steel makers,” said Eng Jaji.

Chronicle

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