When South Africa Cuts Off Power, Cable Thieves Move In

A security guard uses light from his mobile phone during a residential patrol in darkness during a load-shedding power outage in Pretoria, South Africa, on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. cut supplies for the fifth day on Thursday and warned its power generation system remains "vulnerable." Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

While most South Africans spent the past week griping about rolling power cuts, the outages proved a blessing for cable thieves, who are able to work during the blackouts without fear of electrocution.

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., which supplies almost all of South Africa’s electricity, imposed power cuts from Sunday through Thursday because of power-plant breakdowns. Municipal distributors like Johannesburg’s City Power are obliged to implement scheduled outages, known locally as load shedding, over large swathes of the city. In South Africa’s biggest city those typically last for about four hours.

Theft of copper cables — already a perennial problem in South Africa — “is very high during load shedding,” said Isaac Mangena, a spokesman for City Power. “The schedules we send to customers are also available to thieves who can plan to do what they want for four hours at a time.”

The sudden surge of returning power also caused explosions at sub-stations and transformers, leading to a rush of complaints from customers and delays in restoring supply. Power still wasn’t restored to the northern Johannesburg suburbs of Auckland Park and Rosebank on Friday, along with several areas in the south of the city.

Maintenance workers are taking as long as 24 hours to respond to complaints, compared with a normal response time of several hours after a fault has been lodged.

“Communities must bear with us as we try and reverse this,” City Power Chief Executive Officer Lerato Setshedi said in a separate email, adding that it will take two to three days for normal operations to resume. DM


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.