Cable theft strangling SADC’s economy: Can the region escape the noose?


Countries within the Southern African Development Community are suffering economically due to problems associated with copper cable theft.

Media platforms in these countries are awash with stories of such incidences.

For instance, media in Namibia recently reported that Telecom Namibia is concerned about the growing incidents of cable theft from and vandalism of network infrastructure all over the country.

Telecom’s Senior Manager for Corporate Communications and Public Relations, Oiva Angula, was quoted saying thieves have opened manholes at different points in the country to cut and steal copper cables.

“Criminals are causing massive damage to Telecom Namibia networks through copper theft and sheer vandalism, resulting in downtime for customers and costing the company millions,” Angula said.

In Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company, a subsidiary of power utility Zesa Holdings, recently said “it is grappling with cable theft.”

ZETDC said that 30 000 kilometres of copper cables valued nearly US$180 000 have been stolen in the southern region of the country in the first quarter of this year.

South Africa, an economic giant in the region, is not spared either.

Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Andries Nel, told the annual convention of the Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities in Midrand recently that cable theft in South Africa has expanded into all kinds of infrastructure, including the theft of pylons and railway lines.

Irrefutably, cable theft has become a thorn in the flesh of most – if not all – countries in the SADC region as it is costing member states billions.

The costs can be even higher, taking into account the disruption of essential services such as health, communication and transport.

“Cable theft and the consequent interruption of power supply to commerce and industry has led to major negative economic impacts in the form of increased costs and reduced profits,” said Angula.

Sadly, both rural and urban areas are heavily affected, and this is hindering sustainable social and economic development in the region.

Pressed with such a challenge, can the region escape the noose?

TanDelta Technologies, a Namibian Wireless Communication Solutions and Consulting organisation, believes countries within and across the regional bloc can escape the rope only if they act to stop the scourge.

Accordingly, governments in the region, with the support of private entities, must invest in modern technologies that effectively detect and report criminal activities as early as possible.

“The effectiveness of cable theft prevention efforts can be greatly enhanced by technology tools to detect and report criminal activity as early as possible,” notes TanDelta Technologies.

SADC countries must also invest in new power cable identification technologies as they provide significant cost savings and major benefits for electricity distribution for business, commercial, industrial and domestic power consumers.

More so, for the region to effectively escape the loop, it is crucial for member states to establish special project teams and task them with bringing down levels of cable theft in the region.

Working closely with policy-decision makers and law makers, the special project teams must craft strategies, policies and laws that introduce stiffer penalties for cable thieves as well as making vandalism of essential infrastructure a serious crime equivalent to treason.

To compliment such laws and strategies, countries must also come up with effective awareness programmes to continuously inform the public of the imminent threat and the consequences of copper-cable theft.

As this problem requires a multi-sectoral approach to solve it, the public should play an important role in assisting in both the protection of public assets as well as apprehension of copper cable criminals to prevent the immeasurable inconvenience brought about when the telecommunication lines, for instance, are interfered with.

It is also wise for countries within the SADC region to consider the possibility of tightening export control.

Rens Bindeman, technical advisor at the South African Revenue Protection Association, agrees: “Export control should be tightened. At the moment only one per cent of the containers leaving South Africa are being checked.”

Forthrightly, the threat posed by cable theft to the economical welfare of the SADC region is significant and should be addressed by government, business and civil society.

To that end, quick and drastic actions are required if the region is to escape the noose.

December 2014
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