Chefs’ vandalism paralyses ZESA
CORRUPT politicians have been fingered as the main drivers behind the continued destruction and vandalism of ZESA Holdings’ infrastructure, a situation which is threatening the viability of the power utility.
Vandalism of the utility’s infrastructure has over the years seriously interfered with the steady supply of electricity.
By damaging infrastructure, the plunder, which is now rampant countrywide, has cost the utility and consumers millions of dollars every year, consequently impacting negatively on the economy and business in general.
The scourge has also disrupted the supply of electricity to vital units and paralysed essential services such as hospitals.
ZESA has lost about US$30 million in the last 18 months through theft and vandalism of infrastructure.
Vandals are targeting transformers for oil, copper conductors and cables which they export to lucrative ready buyers in both commercial and black markets around the world.
The possible involvement of politicians in the scandal was revealed by ZESA Holdings’ head of loss control, Phillip Mhike, who himself is a former deputy police commissioner.
Mhike last week said the majority of the acts of vandalism were being executed by a well co-ordinated and organised criminal cartel which has strong political backing from corrupt but powerful government officials who are reported to be protecting the rogue elements.
Last week, Mhike, said the recent discovery of stolen infrastructure showed that there was a sophisticated group of people involved in the theft and vandalism of the power utility’s infrastructure.
While blame for the theft and vandalism of the infrastructure has previously been laid on ordinary people, some of whom have been arrested and sentenced, Mhike believes the “big fish” who hire the ordinary people to commit the actual vandalism of the infrastructure are still out there roaming free.
“Currently, we are losing tonnes and tonnes of copper which is being stolen by our own people,” said Mhike.
“The materials which are getting stolen are copper conductors, cables for export, taken mainly to South Africa and overseas.
“Only last month, we had a special operation. We recovered a lot of stolen transformer oil and infrastructure. Now, who is doing this?” he asked.
“I have studied vandalism and I discovered that there are three categories namely the ordinary person, the middlemen and the bosses.
“Mashefu acho are the major dealers. These belong to the most affluent ranks of our society. They are well connected and have vast amounts of wealth. They are very difficult to prosecute because they use their wealth to corrupt the justice system.
These are the bosses of this whole thing (vandalism), and they are the causers of it. These are the people who have made vandalism an industry.
“They (bosses) use the ordinary people who survive from hand to mouth to perform the actual vandalism. These are the tools the bosses use.
“We have embarked on operations and we have arrested these ordinary people with tonnes of vandalised infrastructure.
“Unfortunately, because they work for the affluent people, they always say, ah ndezva shefu izvi, iwe uchapinda mutrouble (this stuff belongs to the big bosses and you will get into trouble with them).
“I always say kana zviri izvozvo (if that is the case), you must come out in the open and tell us which boss, which big boss are you representing.
“I can tell you that these bosses are the people who are causing all these problems.”
Last week, the managing director of the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company, Julian Chinembiri, confirmed that vandalism of the utility infrastructure was rife and continued to cripple energy supply and economic growth, deepening the power woes the country is already facing.
As a result, ZESA continues incurring heavy costs and direct losses running into millions of dollars.
This is a major setback for all stakeholders as electricity supply is part of the key factors expected to drive government’s economic blue-print called the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation.
“As a utility, we are losing a lot of money,” said Chinembiri, adding: “The level of vandalism of infrastructure is now outstripping the replacement rate which is also constrained by cash flow challenges.
“The situation is now out of hand. The company cannot cope with the required rate of replacements and this has caused consumers to go for longer periods without power with the company losing potential revenue and its image getting tarnished.”
Cases have been reported where transformer oil was stolen and mixed with diesel to be sold as fuel or mixed with vegetable oil and sold as cooking oil. Pylons are also vandalised for aluminium bars.
The copper wire from transformers is sold to fix motors and as scrap metal, which enters the global market and can end up as far afield as India and China.
Vandals smash electricity transformers to steal the oil that is later sold as cooking oil, mainly for frying fresh chips.
“The oil looks like cooking oil and lasts much longer,” one user told the Financial Gazette this week.
However, the transformer oil carries a health and environmental risk because it contains highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which has been linked to cancer and other non-cancerous health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and the endocrine system.
Medical experts this week warned that consumption of PCB laden chips poses a health risk to Zimbabweans in a country where health services are already underfunded and doctors are in short supply.
In the act of stealing components, vandals also put their lives and that of others at risk. Victims are usually electrocuted to death or fatalities may occur from fires or falls from great heights.
Mhike bemoaned lesser sentences given to vandals by the courts. Admire Munowenyu, of the Prosecutor General’s office said where there has been sufficient evidence of the actual vandalism and theft to support the charge, the mandatory 10 years sentence has been secured.
Chief magistrate, Mishrod Guvamombe, said the courts were alive to the fact that theft or destruction of equipment responsible for distribution and transmission of electricity has the effect of sabotaging the country’s national economic activities.
He said Section Three of the Electricity Act criminalises the vandalism of apparatus for generating, transmitting, distributing and supplying electricity.
“Section Three is the most serious offence under the Electricity Act which attracts a sentence of not less than 10 years imprisonment unless there are special circumstances,” said Guvamombe.
Other sections attract lesser jail sentences.
However, cases of vandalism and theft of electricity and its infrastructure are dealt with expeditiously. Those cases are given priority because they cause grave economic and social harm.”
Police superintendent, Chokore Churu, said the police have dealt with 31 serious cases of electricity infrastructure vandalism and theft of energy between January and June this year.
Of these, 33 arrests were made. During the same period, a total of 6,6 tonnes and 3 963 meters of copper cables were recovered. This development comes at a time when the power utility is struggling to generate adequate electricity for the country due to poor domestic power generation.
The country is currently generating about 1 400 megawatts (MW) of power against a national demand of about 2 200MW of electricity at peak periods. Many companies use generators every time power goes out. The cost of running a generator erodes most of the businesses’ margins.