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Police commissioner Jackie Selebi has told MPs that an organised crime syndicate that wants to slow down the country's economic growth was behind the theft of cable wire, which has resulted in crippling power cuts in many areas.
Selebi's startling claim was made during a meeting with the National Council of Provinces' select committee on security and constitutional affairs on Friday.
The police chief and his top officials appeared before the committee to discuss their budget for the year.
Selebi said that they had initially thought that incidents of cable theft were isolated incidents involving individuals who wanted to sell them to scrapyards.
Germiston, said Selebi, had the highest number of cable-theft incidents in the country.
"Germiston is a station where a lot of industrial goods pass through, especially cargo going to industrial areas of Gauteng. If you take that cable wire you are in fact stopping the economy from growing, you're slowing down the economy.
"I have reached a conclusion that it is highly organised and is not only organised but also has got certain objectives of arriving at certain goals including economic ones," he said.
With winter around the corner, Selebi predicted that more power outages should be expected in many areas because of cable theft - a situation that will pit communities against the authorities.
" then makes the citizens of that particular area angry with the mayor of that area, whoever the mayor is, because are not getting the electricity and it's cold."
He said the thieves would have achieved their goals by angering the population.
"I am convinced, I have asked my intelligence people to look at this phenomenon, not only as a phenomenon of a person who goes to steal the cable to make money but to look at it in terms of a bigger criminal organisation that seeks to create unnecessary problems," said Selebi.
The outage in Bedfordview - which lasted three days - resulted in a flood of direct and consequential damages claims against Ekurhuleni Metro municipality including those coming from stores in the Eastgate Shopping Centre, which had to close for the three days.
"This means that money that should have gone towards building a school is paying for the criminal activities of this well-organised criminal grouping. We will be looking at this in that sense because I think it is bigger than individuals stealing cable wire for the sake of stealing," he said.
To combat the problem, the SAPS and the Ekurhuleni Metro police have joined forces and the SAPS has also supplied helicopters to patrol Germiston area.
Selebi is not the first to suggest that there is more to the power outages than just cable theft. Alec Erwin, the public enterprises minister, at first blamed "sabotage" for the failure of the Koeberg power station early last year, but soon after had to swallow his words, saying "human error" had been pinpointed as the cause of the power failures that were experienced in the Western Cape.