(File photo) An electrical sub-station. Photo: Etienne Creux

Johannesburg - A cable thief who electrocuted himself by trying to steal an 83 kilowatt cable plunged the entire West Rand into darkness on Monday, leaving huge traffic jams and frustrated residents and businesses in his wake.

The massive power outage that resulted from his unsuccessful efforts to steal copper was expected to last for most of today. City Power technicians expected to spend the best part of the day working to restore power.

The outage hit Roodepoort, Reefhaven, Lindhaven, Witpoortjie, Princess, Ontdekkers Park, Discovery, Selwyn, Horison, Helderkruin, Kloofendal, Wilropark, Roodekrans, Strubens Valley, Poortview, Honeydew, Wilgeheuwel, Constantia Kloof, Creswell Park, Matholeville and Weltevreden Park.

The Roodepoort and Roodetown sub-stations in Van Wyk Street were affected. Thieves removed the protective layers around the electrical cables at the Roodetown sub-station. When another thief tried to steal the actual cables at Roodepoort, he was immediately electrocuted, because the two are interlinked.

While it was unconfirmed whether the two incidents were connected, City Power spokesman Louis Pieterse said they probably were because the sub-stations are close to each other.

He said the exceedingly high voltage that flows through the cable meant the thief would have died even before he touched it. “The protective layers were gone. You only have to be close to such high electricity voltage, you don’t even have to touch it. It jumps at you.”

The attempted theft caused the Roodepoort sub-station to catch fire. Firefighters from the Johannesburg Emergency Management Services were called out to the scene. The outage also badly affected peak-hour traffic.

Motorists, particularly along Ontdekkers Road, spent hours on the road because all traffic lights were out.

Cable theft was a problem, said Pieterse, but with hundreds of kilometres of cable and 270 sub-stations around the city, it was almost impossible to properly secure them all.

City Power said its technicians were assessing the damage and working to restore power to the affected communities as quickly as possible. It was unclear how long the repair operations would take.

Metro police spokesman Senior Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said traffic had been badly affected and would continue to be while traffic lights were out. The Joburg Connect call centre was also affected, and there was a delay in answering residents’ calls.

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The Star