Sabotage of infrastructure causes losses of billions of dollars

Durban (South Africa) – 1506 km of cables and 100 km of railway lines stolen. Two figures that are enough to reveal the extent of economic sabotage of public and private infrastructure in South Africa causing damage to the economy estimated at billions of dollars a year, participants at a conference said on Monday in Durban.

The meeting attended by the heads of the main South African public companies under the theme “The economic sabotage of critical infrastructures”, worked on the means to counter this phenomenon which is becoming more and more extensive and paralyzes economy, causing power outages and stopping trains from running in many parts of the country.

The meeting thus enabled the CEOs of the public electricity company “Eskom”, the railway agency “Prasa”, the rail transport company (Transnet), Telkom, as well as the South African police service , to announce an integrated approach to combating the scourge of theft of cables, batteries, fuel and other metals.

They agreed, among other things, to further integrate their security solutions, which collectively amount to around R10 billion ($580 million) a year, to support the National Prosecuting Authority in criminal cases related to incidents on their networks and work even more closely with communities to protect infrastructure.

1506 km of stolen cables

An online web application has also been created to raise awareness and allow stakeholders to receive live detailed information about incidents in their networks.

Transnet CEO Portia Derby told the conference that fuel pipelines have suffered significant damage valued at over R400 million due to fuel theft. “During this year, we have recorded 61 such incidents, which has a major impact on the environment,” she lamented.

Noting that cable theft has steadily increased from 1,598 incidents in 2017/18 to some 4,356 incidents in 2021/22, she said that some 1,506 km of cables had to be replaced during the same period, with a “loss of around R30 billion to the national economy”.

The manager explained that when copper cable is stolen, trains cannot move, which has a major impact on the entire value chain.

Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter says cables, overhead lines, transformers and other infrastructure ‘stolen right before our eyes’ leads to high losses of around R4 billion a year .

“We need to ensure that we can, as state-owned companies, protect ourselves from the scourge of infrastructure theft and, more importantly, protect South African citizens from the overwhelmingly negative consequences of these crimes,” he said. he stressed, emphasizing that an integrated approach is in the interest of the whole of society.

100 kilometers of stolen railway tracks

Telkom CEO Serame Taukobong, meanwhile, stressed that as long as cable and battery thefts and infrastructure damage continue, networks will struggle to bring down data costs in the country. “Vandalism of our critical infrastructure is really setting back the economy. Mobile networks are all equally challenged to try and reduce the cost of data in South Africa, but the cost of maintaining our infrastructure makes it nearly impossible to get there,” he said.

Ditto for Prasa’s acting CEO, Hishaam Emeran, who painted a black picture of the impact of infrastructure vandalism on society. “Thousands of incidents have nearly decimated the rail network, with some 1,000 km of electrical infrastructure and signaling wiring stolen from a network of some 2,300 km,” he said.

Noting that economic sabotage costs Prasa some 7 billion rand in direct costs and between 15 and 20 billion rand in indirect costs per year, Mr. Emeran said that 100 kilometers of railway tracks have been stolen, cut and physically taken away.

The speakers were unanimous in emphasizing that the current trend of increasing theft and vandalism of public and private infrastructure clearly shows the need for a common security strategy. It’s also about further integrating security efforts and identifying areas where these companies have a common infrastructure.

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