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By Marizka Coetzer

Journalist


Dark days for Eskom security

The load shedding schedule gives criminals a window to target infrastructure.


While thousands of people were relieved the power was restored following a shootout at the Njala substation last week, a family from Soshanguve said their last goodbyes to a loved one, who died in the line of duty, trying to protect the terminal. Last Wednesday, the Hatherley, Koedoespoort, Mamelodi, Mooikloof, Wapadrand and Waltloo substations were left without power following a shootout at the 132 kilovolt Njala substation, which saw the fatal shooting of a 29-year-old security guard. The name of the security guard has yet to be disclosed as the family is still traumatised. At the substation, the security officers…

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While thousands of people were relieved the power was restored following a shootout at the Njala substation last week, a family from Soshanguve said their last goodbyes to a loved one, who died in the line of duty, trying to protect the terminal.

Last Wednesday, the Hatherley, Koedoespoort, Mamelodi, Mooikloof, Wapadrand and Waltloo substations were left without power following a shootout at the 132 kilovolt Njala substation, which saw the fatal shooting of a 29-year-old security guard.

The name of the security guard has yet to be disclosed as the family is still traumatised. At the substation, the security officers were told not to talk to the media about the incident but said the fallen guard would be buried over the weekend.

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Not the first time

They were too scared to say much, but did admit it was not the first, second or third armed attack this year.

“Yes, I have been tied up before, but you have to go, we can’t talk,” he said before closing the gate.

Power has since been restored. Tshwane mayor Cilliers Brink said he had been informed of a separate armed attack at the Njala substation, involving 15 armed people, two weeks ago.

“To have 15 people attack a facility … you can put as much security as you want in; that is a sophisticated criminal operation that requires crime intelligence to crack down,” he said.

Brink said substations were guarded by a combination of private security and own security, with 1 500 security guards insourced by the city.

“This is not a private security issue; the police have a role to play. It’s a sophisticated network of trading cables,” he said.

Brink said load shedding had given notice to criminals that the network was going to be off in advance.

Case of theft, vandalism and murder opened

City of Tshwane spokesperson Lindela Mashigo said a case of theft, vandalism and murder was being investigated by the police.

Criminologist Professor Jaco Barkhuizen said copper was a still commodity for organised criminals and cable theft is one of the problems of load shedding.

“As we saw at the Zondo commission [of inquiry into state capture], as we saw in [former Eskom CEO André De Ruyter’s] book and what Eskom themselves have said throughout [publishing] the load shedding schedule was that organised criminal groups do target Eskom and their infrastructure,” he said.

ALSO SEE: Cop and robbers: Officer among 16 held for truck-jacking and tyre theft

Substations are a gold mine for criminals

Barkhuizen said all the things at a substation sadly fetched a pretty penny on the black market.

“Construction mafia and maintenance mafia are real because once a substation is attacked, someone has to fix it and bring new cables in to repair it.

“What is disconcerting is there are allegedly more attacks that no-one is talking about,” he said.

Security expert Dr Johan Burger said it would not get better anytime soon.

“Police are overwhelmed by rising crime and policing alone is not the solution. We also urgently need the economy to grow, jobs to be created and poverty to be addressed,” he said.

Burger said armed robbery had increased by 44.8% in the past 10 years and motorcar hijacking by 150%.

“The only year that crime decreased was in 2020 due to the Covid lockdown and restrictions – the so-called Covid dip – but it immediately rose after the restrictions were lifted,” he said.

Burger said the stats indicated a rise in crime in general.

“The increase in armed robberies gave us an indication of what direction crime was heading, and it was up,” he said.

Burger said when criminals robbed a substation it was with one intention: to resell the goods. “The criminals are armed because they know there is a reaction unit by these substations and know they might get caught in the act. That’s why they are armed and are willing to shoot themselves out of being caught,” he said.

Burger said while many of these crimes can be traced back to unemployment and a shortage of money, other crimes were due to financial gains and self-enrichment. The police and Eskom have not yet commented.

– marizkac@citizen.co.za

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