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Thieves plunge Byo suburbs into darkness

by Staff reporter
14 Aug 2021 at 07:19hrs | Views
BULAWAYO has been hit by a series of power outages with several suburbs going for weeks without electricity as organised copper theft syndicates continue to strike in the city.

The Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC), which is prejudiced of more than US$2 million annually through copper theft and vandalism of transformers, is struggling to replace the stolen cables with aluminium ones. ZETDC has said it has appealed for the army and police to assist in fighting the thefts.

Last year, Government suspended the issuance of licences for dealing in scrap copper pending the amendment of the Copper Act, which will among other issues contain stiffer penalties of up to 10 years and above for those illegally dealing in copper or caught stealing it.

Vehicles that will be used to transport stolen copper will also be impounded. ZETDC requires more than US$14 million to procure intruder detection gadgets to fight the scourge that continue to bleed the power utility.

A news crew yesterday visited some of the affected suburbs where residents have gone for weeks without power. Residents revealed that copper theft cases were rampant in their suburbs with some alleging that Zesa employees were involved in the racket. Mr Willard Murenje, who runs a poultry and horticulture project in Waterford said his business has been tremendously affected after going for more than a week without power.

"I have more than 300 chicken that I keep and prior to the power blackout, I had slaughtered quite a number of them and they are in my freezer. However, if I continue keeping them with this prolonged power outage, I am likely to incur losses," he said.

"I had to buy a generator to power my water pumping system for my horticulture project and it is proving to be costly to run with diesel."

Mr Murenje urged ZETDC to engage soldiers to assist police in their night patrols.

"This is now a security issue if people are going to sabotage the Government by cutting and stealing copper cables. Zesa Holdings should consider roping in the Zimbabwe National Army to assist police in dealing with this scourge," he said.

"It seems Zesa Holdings doesn't have enough manpower to pull down the copper cables and replace them with aluminium ones. We have many unemployed youths who can be engaged on contract basis."

Mr Murenje's son, Simbarashe who is an IT student at the Bulawayo Polytechnic said the black-out has affected his online lessons. "I rely heavily on our Wi-Fi at home for researching and online lessons. I am actually preparing to write my exams and it's now a week without electricity and this has a negative impact on my preparations," he said.

Mr Fanyana Dube, also of Waterford said thieves cut a razor wire on their perimeter fence to gain access into their yard where they pulled down cables from a pylon. He said thieves are also now taking advantage of the power blackout to steal from their homes at night.

"Thieves got into our yard where there is a Zesa pylon and stole cables. This prolonged power cut due to the theft of copper cables is resulting in thieves sneaking into our homes under the cover of darkness to steal," he said.

Another resident said on Wednesday night, thieves tried to steal some cables, which Zesa workers had pulled down in their neighbourhood after they raised alarm. In Waterford, several houses situated on Holland, Northstar, Lavinia and David Bernard streets have been affected by the power blackout.

The news crew also visited Hillside suburb in Bulawayo where several houses along Kent and Oxford streets have gone for several days without electricity after thieves pounced on the suburb. Ms Marylin Dube said she was now relying on her diesel-powered generator and gas for cooking and lighting as well as pumping water from her borehole.

"Because of this power outage, I am now forced to buy diesel to pump water from the borehole and it is very costly.

This fault was reported almost a week ago and up to now there is no positive response from Zesa," she said.

Ms Dube, who is diabetic, said some of her vegetables and fruits have gone bad. She said the outage affected 40 homes in the suburb. In January, residents from a section of the same suburb and parts of Fourwinds suburbs went for 10 days without electricity after thieves stole nearly 2km of copper cables along Matopos Road.

ZETDC's acting western region general manager Engineer Lloyd Jaji said they were now struggling to replace the cables due to inadequate resources.

"The permanent solution is to replace copper cables with aluminium ones which we have run out of stock. We have engaged the army and the police including people at the highest level in the province to assist us in this fight against copper theft," he said.

"There are also allegations that some of our employees are involved and if they are caught, they should also face the music."

Eng Jaji said last year police arrested 68 suspects in connection with theft of copper cables. "The major challenge is that whenever we replace copper cables, thieves go and attack another area resulting in a power blackout," he said.

Eng Jaji said all suburbs in the city are affected by daily copper thefts. Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube said they were concerned over rampant theft of copper cables. He urged residents in the affected areas to work with police and ZETDC in surveillance and increasing security around power lines.

"People are being arrested and as we speak, we have 21 cases pending trial before the courts. We continue to encourage residents to investigate whenever there is a power outage in their area and inform us," said Insp Ncube.

"We have also established that culprits are people within those localities and they stray into people's yards and cut copper cables. Some of these criminals are locals and out of 30 suspects that we recently arrested, most of them are from Bulawayo except for three from Harare and their car was impounded."

Insp Ncube said copper thieves are operating as a syndicate with some of the loot being smuggled into neighbouring countries such as South Africa.

Source - chronicle