Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Court Reporter
POLICE have arrested a suspect linked to an organised copper theft syndicate stealing overhead copper conductors worth thousands of United States dollars from Zesa power lines in Bulawayo and surrounding areas.
Wisdom Ngwenya (26) of Mandisi Village in the Sigola area of Umzingwane District, who was arrested following a raid, allegedly ganged up with Tony West, Passman Kuneta and Alfred Phiri and pulled down 1 800 metres of overhead copper cables along Maggie road in Kensington worth US$36 000.
West and Kuneta are still on the run while Phiri has since been convicted and is currently serving 10 years in jail.
After allegedly stealing the copper conductors, the four shoved them into two bags and hid the loot in the bush.
They later hired Ofen Mutsvangwa to ferry the stolen cables to a scrap metal dealer in Mahatshula suburb.
Ngwenya appeared before Bulawayo magistrate Ms Linear Khumalo facing charges of interfering, cutting and damaging apparatus used for generating, transmitting, distributing or supplying electricity in violation of the Electricity Act.
He was denied bail and remanded in custody to February 23.
Prosecuting, Mr Nkathazo Dlodlo said on the night of January 15 last year, Ngwenya connived with West, Kuneta and Phiri and went to Kensington where they cut 1 800 metres of overhead copper conductors belonging to the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC).
“Soon after cutting the cables, they placed them in two plastic bags and hid them in a bushy area near Emsinzini Secondary School. The following day at around 5am, they went to Bulawayo and hired Mutsvangwa to transport the cables to one Senzeni Moyo who is scrap dealer operating in Mahatshula,” he said.
The court heard that detectives acting on a tip-off, raided Sihlengeni Business Centre in Sigola leading to Ngwenya’s arrest. He led police to the scene of the crime for indications. The stolen cables were not recovered.
Further investigations also revealed that last year in November, Ngwenya who was in the company of his three accomplices also tried to steal cables in Matsheumhlope suburb.
Phiri, however, got an electric shock while trying to cut the cables using a bolt cutter and he sustained injuries.
Sensing danger, Ngwenya, Kuneta and West managed to flee from the scene leaving Phiri writhing in pain.
Bulawayo has of late been hit by a series of power outages mostly due to copper cables theft, with Eastern suburbs being the worst affected. Recently, Hillside and parts of Fourwinds suburbs woke up with no electricity after thieves stole nearly 2km of copper cables along Matopos Road.
In April last year, about 950 metres of copper cables were stolen in Njube resulting in suburbs neighbouring Old Lobengula, Lobengula Extension and Mpopoma going for days without electricity.
ZETDC is now in the process of replacing copper cables with aluminium ones.
Zesa Holdings is seeking a review of the sentence for individuals convicted of stealing power cables and transformers from 10 years to 30 years to curb the vice that is prejudicing then power utility of more than US$2 million annually.
ZETDC requires more than US$14 million to procure intruder detection gadgets to fight the scourge that continues to bleed the power utility.
Last May, police in Bulawayo arrested two serial copper cables thieves after using sniffer dogs to fish the two men out of a manhole while busy cutting copper cables.
One of the suspects has since appeared in court and was sentenced to 70 years in jail over the US$20 000 copper theft case.
Zesa Holdings has since invited whistle-blowers to curb the upsurge in vandalism and theft of electricity infrastructure witnessed in the last few years. [email protected]