Make copper theft a serious offence : Peters

Cape Town - The Department of Energy wants copper theft - which cost the country about R100 million last year - to be made a serious offence, Minister Dipuo Peters said today.

Briefing the media on developments in government's Infrastructure Development Cluster following last month's Cabinet lekgotla, Peters said her department had recently written to the Minister of Justice, Jeff Radebe, to suggest that cable theft be classified as a serious offence.

"So a person who steals the copper is a murderer, a thief and a saboteur," she said, adding that without power cables, basic services, including emergency medical operations, would be threatened.

The Department of Energy's estimate that copper theft last year cost South Africa R100 million does not include the indirect costs related to the disruption the theft caused to the economy.

Peters' comments follow the arrest yesterday of eight people for stealing copper cable from the ERPM mine in Boksburg.

The Gautrain has also been hit by two instances of copper theft in recent days.

Peters said her department was also looking at implementing a smart grid and smart metering systems to reduce the theft of electricity.

But she said the actions of Soweto residents, who recently protested against the first pilot of a tamper-proof smart metering system, were "disappointing".

"They agreed to the pilot but when they realised it was actually going to prevent them from stealing electricity, they then started fighting against this particular innovative system," said Peters.

"Effectively what the people are saying is that 'allow us to continue stealing electricity'," she said, adding that she backed the Johannesburg Metro Police's steps to take action against theft of electricity and illegal connections.

Peters believed people were against paying for government services because they didn't know what it cost for the government to carry out such a service.

She didn't believe this was something that has developed after 1994, pointing out that even during apartheid, people were stealing electricity.

She also called for South Africans to save water and electricity, adding that South Africa remained a water scarce country and said the department would be relaunching its energy efficiency campaign.

Her department was also looking at getting municipalities to use solar power to run such things as traffic lights.

Turning to the government's bid to increase the amount of renewable energy in the national grid, Peters said a bidders' conference to supply renewable energy as Independent Power Producers would be held on September 14, and the bidding process would be open until the end of October.

Meanwhile, five contracts have been signed with Independent Power Producers (IPPs), adding 373MW of electricity to the power grid, the Chairperson of the Infrastructure Development Cluster and the Minister of Transport Sibusiso Ndebele said.

Ndebele said a total of 11 126 solar water heaters were installed in homes between March and April this year and that municipalities would be connected later this year.

He said following the decision on the electricity distribution industry, a process would be set in motion to develop a funding model for the country's distribution infrastructure in collaboration with municipalities, the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa), the National Treasury and the government's development finance institutions.

Nersa is also holding consultations to determine electricity tariffs and inclining block tariffs, which provide relief to the indigent.

Turning to other infrastructure developments, Ndebele said the government was also deepening the Hazelmere and Clanwilliam dams, while developing 60 new regional bulk water infrastructure systems.

In all four water treatment works, four supply schemes and three wastewater treatment works had been completed.

When it came to water licenses, the Department of Water Affairs had processed 2 506 licenses and is developing an online system to fast track applications.

Most of the delays, Ndebele said, were caused by applicants not providing enough information to support their licence applications.

He said the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) had published its local loop unbundling discussion document for public comment.

The government had set up an Infrastructure Commission following the lekgotla and Peters said the commission would be coordinated by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and would include the Departments of Water Affairs, Human Settlements, Energy and Transport.

Peters said the commission would focus on service delivery at municipalities, including the repair of infrastructure such as roads and electricity distribution to the end-users and would also focus on improving the skills necessary to vamp up infrastructure.

At this time, about 61 municipalities have been identified for immediate action in developing infrastructure, she said.

- BuaNews