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Managing director of City Power Sicelo Xulu and Member of the Mayoral Committee for Environment and Infrastructure Services, Councillor Matshidiso Mfikoe.

Change in policy was one of the options the government was exploring to eliminate the debilitating scourge of cable theft, Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Andries Nel said on Monday.

The scourge costs the country more than R300 million a year. City Power – the City of Johannesburg’s power utility – loses more than R30 million a year to cable theft.

Speaking during a roundtable discussion at the 64th annual Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities (AMEU) Convention at Gallagher Estate in Midrand, Deputy Minister Nel said discussions on the viability of classifying copper cable as a precious metal were ongoing.

The three-day conference, which ends on Wednesday, is hosted by the City of Johannesburg and attended by leading power distributors from various parts of Southern Africa.

“We believe [classification] might slow down the scourge, which has cost the country dearly in lost revenue,” Deputy Minister Nel said.

Classifying copper as a precious metal would enable the courts to pass heavy sentences on anyone found guilty of cable theft. This, Nel said, would hopefully serve as a deterrent.

The panellists discussing the scourge identified socioeconomic conditions as one of the major contributory factors to the rise in incidences of cable theft, described by some of the delegates as “economic sabotage”.

Ordinarily, cable theft is thought to be perpetrated by the poor scrounging for a living. The reality, however, is that there are organised groups, both inside South Africa and abroad, behind it.

Some of the syndicates operate from neighbouring countries, according to the Chief Executive of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry Neren Rau.

The City of Johannesburg Member of the Mayoral Committee for Environment and Infrastructure Services, Councillor Matshidiso Mfikoe, told the gathering that cable theft had a devastating impact on essential services, affecting the smooth functioning of the city.

Among these was the disruption of transport infrastructure, and electricity and water supply.

“The scourge might seem to be petty crime but it has devastating impact on essential services, jobs, health services and the economy,” MMC Mfikoe said.

The MMC suggested that special teams be established to deal with the challenge.

She also said there was a need for information sharing between the government, law enforcement agencies and communities, adding: “These culprits are known in communities.”

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