Thieves vandalise streetlight poles for copper

Vandalism of streetlight poles in Johannesburg has spiralled out of control, with criminals resorting to cutting off poles to gain access to cables and copper.

In what is seen as sabotage of state property, many streetlight poles and masts across the city are left dangling on the side of the road after being damaged.

The damaged street light poles, after a Sunday World visit, are left unattended on major regional roads and in townships, and this has been a concern for many years.

On R82 road, which is a stretch of the highway from Johannesburg to Vereeniging, more than 40 streetlight poles are lying on the grass where they have been left to decay for years.

Other areas where electrical poles are left to rot by City Power include major parts of Soweto, Eldorado Park, Finetown, Ennerdale, Lenasia and Orange Farm, among others.

On the Golden Highway, close to 20 poles are lying on the ground after being looted of cables and copper.

Responding to Sunday World, City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena said they don’t know why the poles are being damaged.

“However, we suspect that poles are cut in an attempt to get to the cables, and the light bulb itself. Criminal syndicates are involved, selling mostly to scrapyards.

“The cables are also used for illegal connections. Previously, we used copper cables, which are in high demand by thieves because of their high value.

“We then moved to aluminium, which has no resale value. However, we have now learned that it is being used for illegal connections, mostly in informal settlements. We are therefore exploring alternative technologies that can serve the purpose while not attracting acts of theft and vandalism,” said Mangena.

When asked if there were any ongoing investigations regarding the widespread theft and destruction of City Power’s infrastructure, Mangena said the power utility has collaborated with law enforcement agencies to set up measures to deal with the theft and damage to essential infrastructure.

“This includes sharing information on criminal activities, combat operations, arrests and investigations up to the level of convictions.

“City Power has experts who support SAPS during the investigation process, and also go to court to provide testimony during prosecutorial processes.

“The cost of replacing a pole and luminaire (electric light unit) is approximately R6 000, excluding the cables,” he said.

Mangena said City Power has not quantified the cost of the vandalism and theft of cables as a whole as “there are new cases every day that we are dealing with in the various areas of the city”.

When we inquired if City Power was deliberately neglecting cases of vandalism and leaving poles lying on the ground in Joburg, he said the power utility restored and repaired “where we can depending on budget availability. However, in some areas, we will have to wait until a different technology is established as they keep on vandalising as we repair and restore. This happens especially in remote areas and roads.”

A resident of Finetown, Marcus Maluleke, said the vandalism of streetlight poles is putting their lives at risk as it allows especially muggers to easily commit their crime in unlit areas.

“We get mugged every night due to non-functioning street lights, and at times people even get killed.

“We are actually left on our own to deal with whatever challenges we come across, including crimes that happen when lights are off due to vandalism,” said Maluleke.

Nonhlanhla Mntambo, who lives in Orange Farm, said that the problem of cable theft and vandalism of streetlight poles is putting their lives in danger,
especially when they have to walk home after being dropped off by taxis.

“I have been mugged so many times while walking from where the taxi dropped me to my house.

“I fear for my life as these criminals do not have mercy,” said Mntambo.

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