Picture: @HermanMashaba/Twitter

Johannesburg - Two scrapyard owners were arrested on Tuesday, for possession of copper cables stolen from the inner city, Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba said.

Mashaba said a team lead by the City’s group forensic investigation department, consisting of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD), City Power engineers and the South Africa Police Services (SAPS), arrested the two scrapyard owners after copper cables were stolen on Monday night.

"The cable theft had plunged a large portion of our City into darkness. The cables were taken from underground tunnels running under the streets. The arrests were made following a tip-off from a member of the public to the City’s group forensic department this afternoon," Mashaba said. 

"Upon investigation, three drums loaded with the stolen copper cables were located at the scrapyard and identified by City Power engineers as the stolen cables. The owners of the scrapyard could not account for the stolen cables, which according to workers on site, had arrived earlier today. It is alleged that more of the stolen copper cables are at another 2 other scrapyards in Robertsville."

Mashaba said that one of the scrapyard owners also allegedly tried to bribe City and law enforcement officials with R10 000.

He thanked the public for the tip-off and said that the expansion of the utility’s network made it difficult to safeguard all the installations. Mashaba urged residents to report incidents of theft and vandalism of the electricity infrastructure.

"The criminals who steal our copper cable sabotage our economy and our City, leaving businesses and homes in the dark, costing ratepayers a fortune and robbing resources from service delivery. It is estimated that 45 percent of the power outages in the City are caused by cable theft," he said.

"In order to combat the criminal syndicates responsible for cable theft, the City will be introducing a specialised JMPD unit whose exclusive focus will be to target these criminal who deal in in stolen copper cables. The work of combating these syndicates requires a professionalised approach of a dedicated unit with the knowledge, skills and networks to be effective."

He said in another effort to combat cable theft, City Power has also initiated a process to replace copper conductor cables with aluminium conductor cables.

"Criminals target copper cables by digging it up to sell to scrap metal dealers, but aluminium has little to no street value." 

Mashaba said that City Power technicians and Emergency Management Services were making every effort to gain safe access to the underground tunnels where the cables were stolen, to start repairing and replacing damaged and burned cables so power can be restored to the affected areas as soon as possible.