Source: Target buyers of stolen cables, transformers | The Herald 03 JAN, 2020
One of the reasons why it has apparently been difficult to end vandalism of infrastructure like power lines and transformers is that those fuelling the destruction have not been targeted.
When local authorities suffered the fate of plaques and street signs being stolen, they responded with non-metallic alternatives.
That appears to have put a lid on the problem as no further vandalism of street signs has continued.
In the case of Zesa Holdings power cables and transformers, the response has been to ratchet up fines and sentences for people arrested for vandalism of such infrastructure.
But the vandalism has not been specific to ZESA alone.
TelOne, the fixed telecommunications network, and the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) have suffered.
So badly has NRZ been affected that kilometres upon kilometres of power cables between Dabuka, in Gweru, and major towns have been lost to vandalism.
This has implications on the effective running of NRZ.
Apart from delays, the theft of cables can lead to train accidents, which result in the loss of irreplaceable innocent lives and equipment.
Two months ago, Energy and Power Development Minister Advocate Fortune Chasi proposed a 30-year mandatory prison sentence for anyone convicted of vandalising ZESA infrastructure.
ZESA argues that it is losing millions annually to vandalism of its infrastructure.
The extent of the destruction has led the minister to equate the vandalism to sabotage.
His proposal is informed by the realisation that theft of the infrastructure is a threat to business, industry and more critically affects human lives.
While ZESA faces challenges in supplying power due to old plant and equipment, its task is made more difficult by the theft of and vandalism to property, leading to imports from South Africa’s power utility, Eskom.
The theft of cables and transformers can take longer to fix as replacements are not as readily available and not at the rate at which they are being taken out because some require importation.
Essential services such as emergencies and hospitals are adversely affected when there are power outages.
Businesses and agriculture are affected when power supplies are disrupted. And it is not always possible to quantify the loss because of the many unintended consequences.
While fines and sentences can act as deterrents, in the case of ZESA infrastructure, this evidently has not delivered the desired results.
This is partly because the real drivers — the buyers, who fuel the vandalism — remain untouched.
Whenever one of the cable or transformer thieves is arrested, they find a replacement supplier and so the cycle continues.
There is need to change tact and start targeting people paying for the stolen property.
It is not as if the buyers of the stolen cables and oil from transformers are unaware of the source and origins of the goods offered to them.
To the extent that they know it is stolen property, they are complicit in the “sabotage” of critical plant and equipment.
One way to effectively deal with the theft and vandalism of cables and transformers is the arrest the buyers. Once that market is taken out, there will be no incentive for thieves to steal as there will be no buyers.
People and businesses selling cables and transformers have inventories outlining when they received new consignments of their raw materials, where these were obtained and the cost of such procurement.
Any time a person or business is suspected of buying stolen cables, law enforcement agents need to inspect records and reconcile these with documented sales from suppliers.
If these do not tally, then someone has the burden of explaining the discrepancy.
Site visits will assist in stamping out the illegal market because the stolen property will look differently from something that has been produced, say by a reputable firm like Central African Cables (CAFCA).
Taking this route will ensure that ZESA property is ring-fenced against vandalism.
Such measures will also protect companies that are contributing to the development of the country through employment creation and regularly paying taxes.
There are many cases where instead of dealing directly with the problems, the option has been to skirt around the problems.
In the case of the theft of plaques and street signs, local authorities should have simply enlisted law-enforcement agencies and raided companies, businesses and individuals producing coffin and door handles.
That is where the stolen signs were being offloaded.
In all cases, where there is vandalism of critical equipment, the first strategy should be to identify the market and then target it because it will be the one fuelling the destruction and vandalism.