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National & Provincial
Jan 31 2013 10:23AM
 
Cable theft crippling our country
LITTLE BIG TROUBLE: With the most basic of tools izinyoka (copper cable thieves) are estimated to have disconnected 549265 South African for an average outage of 358 hours last year.
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Irvine Makuyana

Izinyoka (cable thieves) are punching massive holes in Telkom’s pocket. Cable theft is leading to losses worth billions of rands.

All it takes is a cheap axe, saw, hammer and a criminal mindset to disconnect hundreds of people from the internet, mobile and telephone networks.

Imagine waking, rushing to the office in the morning only to find that your landlines are down, when you know that you paid your telephone bills in full.

The sad reality is that Izinyoka – the axe-wielding criminals – disconnected 549265 South Africans for a telecoms outage of approximately 358 hours last year.

As the international community continues to develop technologically, the demand for copper skyrockets and South Africa’s copper-reliant industries take a huge knock due to the escalating theft.

Directly translated, “Izinyoka” means “snakes”.

These criminals are indeed poisoning the business environment and dragging Telkom’s image through the mud while affecting a large number of self-employed South Africans and innocent citizens.

Telkom Network Field Services managing executive Theo Hess said: “Cable theft is being fuelled by the international demand for copper.”

But the money trail disappears at the country’s borders, making it impossible to police the cause of the problem.

Where cable thieves are arrested, the sentences handed down are too light and, after a brief stay in correctional facilities, Izinyokas get back to digging up cables and wielding axes.

At least the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is training prosecutors to give them an all-round understanding of cable theft, hoping for heavier sentences.

It cost Telkom approximately R261m to replace stolen cables last year. The figure includes security measures to protect the newly replaced cables.

Unfortunately, the amount of revenue lost both to Telkom and its customers remains unknown, but was said to be significant.

“The major point of concern is the loss in revenue both from the Telkom and customer sides. That is very difficult to quantify. The problem with cable theft is the service impact,” Hess said.

“The negativity that goes with it is bad. You have people saying that Telkom cannot deliver; Telkom’s lines are out. The brand does take a pounding and we are trying to get away from that.”

The amount of copper theft is highest in the north eastern region, followed by the eastern region and the western region, respectively.

The financial impact of cable theft over the last four years has run into the region of R2bn.

irvinem@thenewage.co.za

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