Crack unit to deal with vandalism, theft National police spokesperson Commissioner Paul Nyathi

Nqobile Tshili and Patrick Chitumba

A CRACK unit has been established by the police to combat the theft and vandalism of Zimbabwe’s vital public infrastructure, including railway lines, telecommunications cables and electricity. 

Critical institutions, such as the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) and the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC), have been severely impacted by this issue. 

The country is losing an estimated US$5 million annually due to vandalism of electricity infrastructure alone. 

Last week several Bulawayo suburbs suffered power outages, which authorities blamed on vandalism of electricity infrastructure, adversely affecting business operations. 

Copper conductors worth over US$4 000 were recently stolen from the ZETDC’s Mkoba substation, leading to 70 percent of Mkoba being plunged into darkness. There is a significant upsurge in vandalism and theft of electricity infrastructure worth US$22 500 in the Midlands province in the first quarter of the year, hindering the progress of new projects. Furthermore, the upsurge in vandalism and theft of electricity infrastructure continues to cripple energy supply and economic growth, deepening the country’s electricity woes.

 In the first quarter, the region, especially in the Midlands province, witnessed 36 cases of infrastructure vandalism consisting of transformers, multi-core cables, copper conductors and copper cables. 

Gweru and Kwekwe each reported 14 cases, Zvishavane and Mvuma had two each and Chivhu had four. Last year US$279 000 was lost to 156 cases of vandalism and electricity meter bypass between January and December.

National police spokesperson, Commissioner Paul Nyathi, said law enforcement agents have ramped up efforts to bring the culprits to book with the establishment of a specialised crack unit to deal with the menace. “Police have established a specialised unit dealing with key national infrastructure, especially Zesa, TelOne and the National Railways of Zimbabwe,” he said. 

“We have also roped in companies to bring awareness to the situation and introduce new methods of protecting key national infrastructure.

“It is a holistic Government approach and as police, we are also part of the strategies. We have arrested several people in Bulawayo, Matabeleland South and Mashonaland Central trying to smuggle copper cables out of the country.

“However, this does not mean that the theft and vandalism of infrastructure is not happening in other provinces.”

He said while collaborating with other stakeholders, the police are always trying to innovate to be a step ahead in dealing with crime by embracing new technologies for policing in line with the Government’s thrust.

Comm Nyathi said Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister, Kazembe Kazembe, was spearheading the adoption of information, and communication technologies (ICTs) driven policing and traffic management, adding that the ZRP will also adopt new technologies to gain an upper hand against offenders.

Energy and Power Development Minister, Edgar Moyo, said due to vandalism of power infrastructure, the country experiences unplanned power cuts, which are burdening financially. 

“It is estimated that we are losing US$5 million due to vandalism of electricity infrastructure. The impact is that the resources that are supposed to be used for grid extension, grid strengthening for new power projects and procurement of spares are then used for repairs on vandalised infrastructure. Our people should do better than that,” said Minister Moyo.

“Our communities should assist the utility in identifying vandals destroying infrastructure to ensure that they are brought to book.”

 He said, for instance, Bulawayo last week recorded increased power cuts due to vandalism of electricity infrastructure.

“Let me talk about Bulawayo since we are in Bulawayo today. We saw a lot of power cuts on Monday and Tuesday, but this was not load-shedding. A lot of vandalism happened during the week. Theft of copper, theft of oil from transformers, generally vandalism has seen us suffering a lot of blackouts during the week,” said the Minister.

Commenting on the Gweru vandalism, ZETDC acting general manager for the southern region, Engineer Wonder Mangwanda, bemoaned the negative impact this has on consumers.

“The landing span of three feeders from Mkoba substation was vandalised last night (Friday) probably during load-shedding, and this resulted in 70 percent of Mkoba without power,” he said.

“The feeders were vandalised outside the substation where there are no security sensors. They stole copper conductors, valued at US$$4 320.

“Theft and vandalism of electricity infrastructure has resulted in increased faults leading to frequent and long power outages that some clients perceive to be load-shedding. Power supply is being compromised by increasing cases of theft and vandalism that has resulted in unplanned power outages,” he said.

Industrialists have also bemoaned the impact of vandalism of power infrastructure saying it has become costly to the economy and operations of businesses.

Association of Business Zimbabwe chief executive officer, Mr Victor Nyoni, said whenever there is vandalism of electricity infrastructure, production costs increase for businesses.

“Whenever Zesa infrastructure is vandalised, copper cables stolen and transformer oil is taken, this negatively affects businesses. Zesa normally takes a long time to make the repairs and sometimes businesses and even residents have to chip in to fix the infrastructure because the utility company would say it cannot do the repairs,” he said. 

“This is a direct cost, which ordinarily businesses should not be incurring,” said Mr Nyoni.

He said after vandalism, businesses are often forced to use generators, which increases the cost of production.

Mr Nyoni said as businesses increase the cost of production, they just pass on the costs to consumers.

He said it was encouraging that students at universities such as Nust have come up with innovations to protect power infrastructure.

During the 64th edition of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in April, a Nust student showcased his prototype innovation to protect power infrastructure from vandalism and the university is working with Zesa to make the project come into operation.

Meanwhile, Minister Moyo has said while vandalism of electricity infrastructure has increased power cuts, the power demand is generally high in winter due to winter wheat farming.

“These intermittent downsides of provision of power are a result of several factors and one of them is that we are now in winter,” he said. 

“The other reason is that the performance of Hwange Unit 1 to 6 is not performing very well. Those units are not producing to optimum levels due to aging,” said Minister Moyo.

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