Durban - A crisis caused by metal thieves, which would have plunged Pietermaritzburg into darkness, was averted yesterday by municipal officials and Eskom, but the damage will cost R1 million to repair.

The main power supply pylon to Pietermaritzburg, in Camps Drift, was tilting and, had it fallen, it would have taken days to restore the electricity supply.

Msunduzi spokesman Brian Zuma said the supporting steel bars which kept the pylon upright had been unbolted and stolen.

“Whoever was involved planned this carefully. They obviously brought along all the necessary equipment to remove the supporting crossing,” he said.

Employees of the electricity department noticed the pylon was tilting on Thursday. At first sight they thought heavy winds were to blame, but, on closer inspection, they saw the supporting structures were gone.

“We don’t know when this happened or if the thieves stole all the steel at once or came at different times,” he said.

He said the municipality had to deal with this kind of problem regularly.

“People don’t just steal electricity, they steal copper and all forms of metal which can be sold.

This is costing the municipality hundreds of thousands of rands,” he said.

As a result of ongoing copper theft in the city, certain suburbs were often without power.

The head of the electricity department, Sabatha Nomnganga, said that fixing the problem was a huge project which would cost about R1m.

“It will entail having to switch off electricity for short periods,” he said.

Eskom has undertaken to work at weekends to fix the problem.

A temporary structure has been put up to prevent the pylon from falling.

Zuma said the department and Eskom would exchange ideas on how to prevent this type of theft from taking place in future.

Vandalism for scrap metal was a widespread problem.

In Durban in June last year the M4 pedestrian walkway and concrete barrier along the uMngeni River bridge collapsed when thieves stole the stainless steel shackles that connected the supporting beams of the structure.

The Mercury