BY STEPHEN CHADENGA
WATER shortages bedevilling the City of Gweru are set to worsen amid reports that daring copper thieves are targeting water pipes which they believe have copper cables running parallel to them.
The Midlands capital has been grappling with water woes for a long time, a situation further compounded by obsolete infrastructure resulting in incessant pipe bursts, power outages affecting pumping capacity and rapid urban expansion, among other factors.
Council director for engineering services Praymore Mhlanga told Southern Eye that the local authority had to frequently attend to bursts caused by criminals vandalising the pipes in search of copper cables.
“The major problematic area is the Gweru River pipe and this one gives us headaches as we have to frequently attend to it when it bursts and indications on the ground point to vandalism,” he said.
Although it is common for network companies, after agreeing with councils, to install their cables parallel to cities’ water and sewage infrastructure, Mhlanga said in the case of Gweru, copper cables did not exist.
Midlands provincial police spokesperson Inspector Emmanuel Mahoko said it was difficult to conclude that the vandalism was caused by copper thieves without any arrests made.
“How do they (council officials) know that people were looking for copper? Was anyone arrested to come to that conclusion? It becomes tricky,” he said.
Contacted for comment, Gweru United Progressive Ratepayers and Residents Association director David Chikore said council had been failing to replace ageing water infrastructure, which he said was the major source of water problems in the city.
He said even if council was to be “given the benefit of doubt” that there were people vandalising water pipes looking for copper cables, the situation on the ground did not show what the local authority was doing to safeguard its infrastructure.
“What is the council doing anyway to make sure that its infrastructure is not vandalised? Have they approached telecommunications giants like TelOne for a collaborative approach in resolving such an issue so that such vandalism does not compromise service delivery?” queried Chikore.
Copper is in high demand and over the years, many arrests have been made of people who either illegally deal in or unlawfully possess the cables.
In June this year, government gazetted The Copper Control Amendment Bill, which, among other things, seeks to heavily penalise those that illegally deal in copper.
There are proposals for a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years.