Illegal electricity connections are rife in Durbans informal settlements. To counter this, the eThekwini Municipality plans to install about 20 000 prepaid meters at various settlements in the current financial year.

Durban - Electricity thieves cost ratepayers R190 million a year, the eThekwini Municipality has revealed.

But the losses climbed to R230m when the theft of infrastructure – including copper cables and “busbars” (connecting bars) in substations – is factored in.

The city was responding to an outcry by several communities over the widespread theft of electricity by residents of informal settlements.

Residents living near shacks have endured numerous power outages and witness first hand how shackdwellers connect live wires to their homes from electricity poles.

Eskom’s load shedding has also caused quite a stir among paying customers who are left in the dark.

The municipality said the negative impact of illegal electricity connections include the “hefty costs” of replacement of infrastructure and hiring security, the shutdown of business operations, loss of income and loss of exports.

“The municipality loses approximately R230m per annum as a result of electricity and infrastructure theft,” said spokeswoman, Tozi Mthethwa.

“Approximately R40m per annum is claimed from our insurances for infrastructure theft but actual costs are hidden viz unclaimed from insurance: labour costs, vehicles, losses in electrical sales, losses by customers eg manufacturing losses and losses to the economy,” she said.

“The balance is theft of electricity... which equates to approximately R190m.”

In some areas, electricity thieves have dug tiny trenches across roadways to hide the cables running to their homes. They also use tree branches to hang wires overhead.

When these illegal connections are removed by the municipality, the shackdwellers often resort to violent protests.

“The electricity unit undertakes periodic sweeps/audits, after which illegal electricity connections are removed. However, the reality is that as soon as it is removed and our teams move out of the areas, electricity is installed again, illegally,” Mthethwa said.

She said the municipality had been electrifying informal settlements since last year.

“In the past financial year, about 15 000 prepaid connections were supplied to informal settlements. For the current year the plan is to install about 20 000.”

However, implementation is dependent upon the assessment of each site in terms of certain prerequisites.

Mthethwa said the challenges with regard to illegal connections include that:

* Charges were often dropped against of the perpetrators of these illegal activities who had been arrested. This is due to the lack of tangible evidence. And those found guilty were given low fines, which did not act as a deterrent.

* The municipality discontinuing the deployment of security guards in areas with high cable theft incidents after one guard was shot dead.

Mthethwa said awareness programmes had been conducted to educate customers and residents on safety, the reporting of the theft of electricity and the consequences of connecting electricity illegally.

To help combat the problem, the municipality had also replaced short street poles with longer ones to prevent access to the overhead cables/connections.

While residents often feel that their complaints of electricity theft go unattended, Mthethwa urged complainants to call the electricity department’s contact centre, saying the minimum response time is 48 hours.

The contact details are: 080 13 13 111, SMS 083 700 0819 or e-mail [email protected] The cable theft hotline is 031 311 9611.