File picture: Chris Collingridge/Independent Media

Johannesburg - With the security alarm already disabled and guards mysteriously missing, daring thieves broke into and “sabotaged” Joburg’s under construction R35 million data centre.

Moments after invading the facility, criminals left the Braamfontein building with copper cables worth R2m.

The city is adamant the theft was an inside job.

The metro is a month away from completing the R35m project to manage its own data, which it says would save the city millions paid to contractors for the service.

Speaking to The Star on Sunday, the metro’s investigations spokesperson, Lucky Sindane, detailed how the criminals had meticulously executed their plan to “sabotage” the metro’s technology infrastructure project.

Sindane explained how the criminals took advantage of the facility’s temporarily disabled alarm system.

Read: City of Joburg’s IT nerve centre sabotaged, says mayor

Additionally, he said, the group removed an operational CCTV, which they allegedly replaced with a defective device.

Ordinarily, five guards would have been keeping an eye on the facility, but on the night they were nowhere to be found.

“All of this will form part of the investigation,” he said. “We spend millions of rand paying service providers. The project should have been completed in December.

“From January, we were no longer going to depend on them - we would be fully equipped to do it on our own.”

The city said the project was for the protection of citizen information, “while ensuring that we build capacity internally with the aim of hosting our data infrastructure while minimising our dependency on suppliers to host our infrastructure”.

Although initial calculations revealed a R2m loss, the figure was expected to increase.

“Experts are expected to come on site to assess the extent of the damage. What this means is that the project might have to start from scratch because some of the cables were cut in the middle and you can’t just reconnect. Some of the equipment has been imported from China,” Sindane said.

The weekend theft meant that the December deadline for the project would definitely not be met, he said.

After gaining access, he said, the gang broke down a door leading to a storeroom where contractors, who were doing maintenance work, kept their tools. The criminals allegedly gained access through an emergency exit door on the ground floor of the building.

“They then took grinding machines and extension cords, which they used to cut the cables,” Sindane said.

The stolen cables were connected to two power generators which were recently purchased and were in the process of being tested.

“Information and data are assets that should be protected from vulnerability and from being illegally accessed,” the city said.

The thieves were unable to access the metro’s partially completed live nerve centre, where the data infrastructure was being stored.

No power outages were experienced during or after the theft.

Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba said in a statement he wanted to eliminate corrupt elements throughout the city, including investigating illicit deals and contracts secured by the previous administration. These included information, communication and technology contracts.

“I believe that the break-in is intended to sabotage the initiative of building and securing our own data and infrastructure environment,” he said.

“There are no signs of forced entry on the door they used.”

A R100 000 reward has been offered to anyone who can provide information that would lead to the arrest and prosecution of the criminals “involved in the attempt to sabotage the city”.

“Historically, these criminals have operated with impunity, and those days are fast coming to an end,” Mashaba added.

The break-in comes barely two weeks after City Power infrastructure material worth R80m was discovered hidden in various warehouses across the metro.

The city’s group forensic and investigation service is currently investigating this matter as well.

The Star