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Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Thieves black out city factories

from South Africa Sucks

FOR the sake of about R200, metal thieves plunged a large swath of the south Durban region, including major industries, which will suffer millions of rands in losses, into darkness yesterday.

The Toyota plant in Prospecton, KwaMakhutha, Isipingo and Umlazi will all be without power for a few days because the thieves made off with an electricity transmitting tower's mounting bolts and structural members.

The 50 meter high transmission tower collapsed, causing further inconvenience when high-voltage cables fell on to Umbumbulu Road, between Lotus Park and Isipingo.

Although the police have opened a sabotage case, metal theft for its scrap value is suspected to be the cause of the incident.

The eThekwini Municipality has warned that thousands of affected residents could be without power for up to a week.

The electricity department's Vijay Batohi said it would cost about R2 million to temporarily re-erect the tower. Batohi said copper theft was affecting the department's service to a large extent.

"Millions of rands in annual financial losses are incurred owing to copper theft. What is most concerning about this incident is that Durban south is key to the Durban economy.

"It's frustrating that small amounts of money for scrap metal will result in the city forking out millions," he said.

Toyota vice-president Thapelo Malapo said that the problem would be "disastrous" for the company.

He said the factory had since been shut down and would probably only be operational by Monday.

"The plant became impossible to operate, so we had to shut it down. We (the management) aren't the only ones facing massive financial losses; this happened at the worst time for workers. With the cost of living rising at an alarming rate, they needed to work overtime as that brought them extra money."

Malapo said because Toyota was a large network, supplying an equally large value chain, estimating the company's financial losses would be difficult.

"We have a big network comprised of buyers that we won't be able to supply orders to and we'll cut down on production because of inadequate supplies," he said.

"We deal with a local and international network and our clients won't understand that we have problems; they simply expect us to deliver."


Malapo said losing confidence from clients would be the long-term effect.

Airports Company South Africa spokesman Colin Naidoo said Durban International Airport had experienced a power cut because of the downed tower, but operations at the airport were not affected because an emergency power system immediately kicked in.

Isipingo Hospital experienced a similar problem. However, the hospital reported that back-up generators had kicked in and that operations were running smoothly.

Sapref spokesman Margaret Rowe said the oil refinery experienced a dip in power supply, causing some processing units to automatically shut down. The result was flaring as surplus gases were combusted in the flare stacks.

"These units are in the process of being restarted. We have full electricity supply and we expect the refinery to be fully operational within the next couple of days," she said.

Durban Chamber of Business spokesman Zama Phakathi said the incident was unfortunate as it resulted in business being affected. She said it was critical that electricity towers, which served as a life-line to business, receive greater protection.

"It's unfortunate that petty crime could lead to losses of this magnitude.

"As difficult as it will be, we are hoping the business community will try to adjust to this situation. The municipality, however, assured us that supply would be restored by Friday and we appreciate the quick response," she said.

Police Supt Muzi Mngomezulu said two people were arrested in connection with the incident.

He said traffic was interrupted as electricity wires lay on the ground and robots stopped working.

"No one was injured and no car was damaged. The matter was reported to the police and the dog unit arrived at the scene.

"A woman and a man were arrested. Five other men fled. Because many industrial businesses are affected, the two will face sabotage instead of theft charges.

"This will cost the municipality and businesses millions of rands," he said.