On the morning of 17 September 2012, somebody woke up; got dressed, picked up their saw and headed out to the substation in Roodepoort with the intention of cutting the electrical cables to steal them. They probably gave no thought to the fact that what they were about to do was dangerous, illegal and downright stupid. Their motivation may have been hunger, boredom or they needed money for whatever reason, or they were looking for a quick thrill. That piece of cable they cut would end up at a scrap metal dealer who would give them a fraction of the copper price for it.
They entered the premises of the substation and oblivious to the humming transformer close by, cut the cable.
The results were fatal to the thief, he was probably charred beyond recognition and may never be identified. The subsequent fire plunged vast portions of the West Rand into darkness.
His actions were felt throughout the Roodepoort area because this happened during peak hour traffic. The robots were all out. Westgate was in darkness, Clearwater Mall was running generators, the local doctors office was using torches and the x-ray dept was down, bread was not being baked at the bakery, industries came to a halt, and who knows how much production was lost as a result of one person with a saw.
Cable and metal theft is competing with corruption and incompetence to kill South Africa.
One of the first things I learnt when I worked on section in Germiston in the early 80’s was that you do NOT cut a cable, especially not with a steel hacksaw. But then I was trained to deal with instances like that. These opportunistic thieves are not. Their motivation is very different to what mine was. However, I do not have a lot of sympathy with this person or any of his ilk, just like he had no sympathy for the thousands of people who would end up having to be inconvenienced through his actions.
And, as long as there is a demand, and people who will buy these lengths of ex copper cable so there will be willing thieves with saws.
I have witnessed the destruction of over 40 heritage locomotives by metal thieves, I have seen complete cemeteries stripped of anything metal, I have seen the World War 1 Roll of Honour destroyed by metal thieves at the Union Buildings, I know of at least 3 other memorials that have been rendered obsolete by metal thieves, I have heard of countless incidents where lives were put in danger because of metal and cable theft. It is an epidemic in South Africa, and I believe in other parts of the world too.
So, on that night somebody did not go to bed with his ill gotten Rands.
And today people had to catch up with production that was lost yesterday. And business had to count the cost of the days lost production and will pass that onto the consumer.
And maybe tomorrow some other scrap metal dealer will encourage some poor or homeless person to go cut a cable, and they will acquire a hacksaw, and……
It never ends.
© DRW 2012-2017. Images recreated 25/03/2016