Staff in the eThekwini Municipality may come under scrutiny in the investigation into the theft of municipal LED street lights, after it emerged that the equipment had been in the City stores last month.
A source, familiar with the department, said there was a strict process in managing equipment in the stores.
“These lights arrived at the stores in October, and now they are found at the border, these (lights) did not jump there, someone took them out of the stores."
The Hawks and the Kosi Bay Border Management Authority arrested two suspects at the weekend for possession of municipal property. They stopped a vehicle heading to Mozambique that was pulling a trailer.
The suspects, aged 31 and 44, were arrested for possession of suspected stolen property and tampering with essential infrastructure. Both appeared at the Manguzi Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
The municipality said the 52 LED street lights found were engraved as property of eThekwini Municipality.
Speaking in general about theft incidents, mayor Mxolisi Kaunda told members of the Executive Committee on Tuesday that he had been briefed by senior managers about staff members from the unit who had been arrested for theft.
The municipality also revealed that it was working closely with the Specialised Multi-Disciplinary Economic Infrastructure Task Team established by the SAPS to curb damage to, and theft of, economic infrastructure.
However Kaunda did not link the latest incident in the municipality to the recent arrest of two people caught with stolen municipal lights.
“We want to commend our law enforcement agencies. The matter is currently being handled by the police.
We expect our officials to fully co-operate with the police because we want to get to the bottom of the matter.
“We are informed by the deputy city manager and officials in the unit that there have been a number of arrests (of our own officials) in this unit for stealing our material.
“While we don’t want to jump the gun, we must reiterate our commitment to root out any form of criminality within the municipality. Otherwise, if allowed to continue, our efforts to deliver quality services and improve the lives of our people will be in vain,” he said.
IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said: “I hear the mayor saying that those implicated in theft are being arrested, but to me that tells me that something is not being done in the correct manner.
“If those involved in criminality are being arrested, than it stands to reason that this should not be happening anymore.”
He said while the police conduct their own investigation, the municipality should be conducting its own probe to look at how long this has been going on and who else is involved.
DA councillor Thabani Mthethwa proposed that the City leadership should be given a detailed briefing on the workers who have been implicated in theft.
“I do not believe that it was an isolated incident. Is there a way that (City leadership) can get a list with names of those that have been arrested, and what people were charged for? I think it will help us in that we would have confidence that something is being done,” he said.
ANC councillor Thembo Ntuli said it was deeply disturbing that the items that were recovered were new.
“We need to look closely at that because we cannot have a situation where community members complain about electricity problems while electricity supplies are going missing,” said Ntuli.
“The fact that these items were sealed tells us that they were removed from where they are stored, we can’t have a situation where people do as they please in our stores,” said Ntuli.
Gareth Newham, head of the justice and violence prevention programme at the Institute for Security Studies, welcomed the detection of the stolen goods and the arrest.
However, Newham said to effectively address this challenge, the syndicates and networks involved needed to be dismantled.
“Arresting a couple of what may be low-level criminals with stolen goods is a positive step.
“However, hopefully these arrests will be used to gather information on the broader criminal networks involved in cross-border crimes affecting KZN,” he said.
According to Newham, the priority must be to arrest and convict those who run these networks behind the regular movement of stolen and illicit goods.
“A particular focus should be on dismantling the networks and groups responsible for the smuggling of firearms, stolen infrastructure, minerals, metals and wildlife, hijacked or stolen vehicles and drugs,” he added.