DURBAN 10062014 Waterpipeline going across Umgeni river, Parlock Picture: Jacques Naude

Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal government and businesses have expressed fear that the widespread theft of metal and cables will eventually sabotage the economy leading to higher unemployment.

This comes after the collapse of a crucial water pipeline in Durban on Tuesday, which has been linked to metal theft.

Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive officer Andrew Layman described the cable and metal theft as “sabotage” to the country’s economy.

He said this would have more consequences for the poor than the rich.

“When business and production are disrupted, employment and job creation are less likely to occur and the cycle of poverty will persist for longer,” he said.

Metal theft has caused serious damage to the city’s infrastructure before. Early this month, the police made a breakthrough when they bust a syndicate dealing in stolen metal Armco barriers. They caught the men as they were loading the materials into their vehicle in Merebank. Later a Durban businessman, caught with a shipping container full of the metal, confessed to having bought it from vendors.

Two years ago a concrete barrier on the Ellis Brown Viaduct bridge, which runs across the uMngeni River near Blue Lagoon, collapsed after thieves had removed the metal that reinforced it.

In 2008 the theft of foundation bolts from an electricity pylon south of Durban plunged parts of the city into darkness.

Lives have been lost in some cases.

Msunduzi Municipality engineer Ntandoyenkosi Mgwili was electrocuted in Pietermaritzburg earlier this year, while repairing an electricity substation damaged by cable thieves.

Premier Senzo Mchunu’s office expressed outrage at the growing trend of vandalism to infrastructure.

His spokesman Ndabezinhle Sibiya said this was starting to hinder the supply of water and electricity.

“There is no way that we can grow the economy of the province without water and electricity,” he said.

If not tackled, the crime would affect local investment, he said.

“Simba has just invested more than R1 billion in KZN for the development of a new plant. Toyota has just invested money for a new Corolla to be manufactured.

“These big companies plan their investment by looking at the availability of water and electricity. So their decision to invest in the province depends on the availability of these two resources,” he said.

Sibiya said the premier would soon hold a premier’s co-ordinating forum, which involved mayors. Among other issues to be discussed would be how to protect local infrastructure from syndicates.

“There is a backlog in terms of provision of water and electricity, which the government is dealing with. Now this backlog is compounded by this act of criminality,” he said.

The Metal Recyclers Association of South Africa said it would only respond on Wednesday to questions about how it was dealing with its members who might be involved in crime.

Police spokesman Jay Naicker said cable and metal theft were receiving attention.

“The SAPS, Crime Intelligence, Metrorail, Telkom, Eskom and municipal departments are part of the process in addressing this scourge. Our recent successes are an indication of our commitment to bringing the perpetrators to book,” Naicker said.

The Mercury