Electricity theft, endangering lives

Eskom loses millions of rands each year through theft of electricity cables, vandalism, and tampering with Eskom installations and increasingly through the illegal reconnection of the electricity supply, either by tapping into a neighbour’s power supply or the overhead network.
Lenny Babulall, Eskom Public Safety Specialist, says, “Eskom is concerned about the developing trend where communities are being encouraged to illegally connect their electricity supply. These illegal acts are viewed as a serious offence, punishable by law. The consequences of illegal reconnections are hazardous and often fatal. Many lives have been lost due to members of the public trying to make illegal reconnections of electricity supply.”
Since 2000, 118 members of the public have lost their lives because of copper theft, illegal connections, unlawful entry to power structures, climbing structures and vandalism. There were also 202 injuries resulting from these illegal and hazardous activities.
Babulall says, “We have discovered places where legally connected customers are illegally selling electricity at a rate between R70 and R100 a month to neighbours.”
Some illegally connected customers do not know that they are illegally connected nor are aware that illegally connecting electricity is a criminal offence. They believe that they are legally connected because they are paying for the service, when in fact they are not. This practice is not only illegal, but also dangerous. The people rendering illegal electricity supply services may be prosecuted under The Electricity Act.
Babulall says Eskom has discovered an increasing number of homes where meters have been bypassed either to avoid payment to disguise the unlawful sale of electricity to neighbours. The dangers with this practice include:
The earth leakage device is also bypassed, and if there is contact with electricity, residents risk being electrocuted as the circuit breaker limits have been bypassed as well.
Use of incorrect conductor sizes e.g. speaker wires. These wires often have no earth wire and therefore no protection through the earth leakage device.
The conductors are joined together without any insulation. In some instances individuals use plastic carry bags as a form of insulation on these joints.
These connections are not buried deep into the ground and often become exposed.
The overhead conductors are likened to dangerous spider webs, strung over buildings, trees and in open veld with fragile sticks or poles. Proper overhead conductors are required by law to have a minimum clearance of 3.3 meters from the ground.
Eskom is aware of the negative impact illegal connections have on its customers. These illegal practices often result in severe injuries and even death. The impact of electricity-linked criminal activities is alarming. Not only does it result in unnecessary loss of life, but also impacts on the quality of electricity supply, unplanned power outages, loss of direct foreign investment due to infrastructural inadequacies and severe financial losses. As a model Corporate Citizen, Eskom considers these injuries a price that is too high to pay. Therefore, Eskom has taken the initiative in developing various preventative programmes to address the problem of illegal electricity connections. These include awareness building campaigns and the removal of illegal lines.
“Eskom does remove illegal connections and these are often replaced within hours. This also makes it difficult for Eskom to manage the connections of illegal electricity supply,” adds Babulall.
Areas with a high number of illegal connections often experience voltage surges because of interference to the power supply. The problem is exacerbated in wet weather due to the naked, improper joints in the illegal network.
Despite these various preventative measures, illegal connections and vandalism to Eskom’s electrical installations continue unabated. Eskom needs the community’s support in preventing these practices. If members of the public are aware of any illegal connections, acts of vandalism, copper, cable and conductor theft and unlawful entry being made in their area, Eskom urges them to report these by calling the toll free number 0800 11 27 22 today.
“Members of the public reporting theft may remain anonymous, but are asked to provide as much detail as possible to enable revenue protection staff to locate sites where theft has occurred,” concludes Lenny Babulall.