‘Transformer thieves are Zesa workers’ President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Prosper Ndlovu, Business Editor

ZESA workers have a hand in the rampant vandalism and theft of electricity infrastructure, which has cost the country millions of dollars and led to disruption of efficient power transmission across the country, President Mnangagwa said yesterday. 

The power utility needs at least US$40 million to replace more than 4 000 transformers, which have been vandalised across the country. It has also lost up to 1 000km of power lines to cable thieves, according to recent reports. 

Responding to a question on the matter during a plenary session at the on-going 2019 ZimTrade Annual Exporters’ Conference in Bulawayo, the President said Government was disturbed by reports of power transmission disruptions linked to vandalism of electricity infrastructure and the attendant negative impact on ordinary people and business operations.

“We are convinced that those who steal transformers either work for Zesa or are related to Zesa workers because you need some degree of information and technology to steal these transformers, and you must know that there is some danger involved,” said President Mnangagwa.

“Transformers are being stolen countrywide and we need to find a way to stop this stealing.”

President Mnangagwa said Government has come up with propositions on how to tackle the issue of transformers at two levels. 

First, he said the Ministry of ICT, Postal and Courier Services has been tasked to develop applications or technology to protect the transformers. This includes exploring avenues of using technology devices such as drones to monitor electricity infrastructure. 

The President said research was also being done on the usage of modern transformers in advanced economies that cannot be vandalised, which could be embraced locally. 

Meanwhile, President Mnangagwa said there was a need to amend the laws and come up with deterrent sentences against those who vandalise electricity infrastructure. 

He challenged Zesa to explain public concerns over delays in repair of transformers that would be taken away from communities for repair and maintenance but take longer to be reinstalled. President Mnangagwa said he will be officiating at the Harare Institute of Technology (HIT) graduation today where he has been briefed that the university will showcase a new transformer model that he hoped would assist the country in view of the vandalism problem.

Zesa has been experiencing increased incidents of vandalism, some of which had claimed lives as thieves attempt to drain transformer oil or cut copper cable conductors. The trend has further crippled Zesa operations at a time the country has suffered reduced power generation capacity at the Kariba Hydro-plant linked to drought and ageing infrastructure at the main thermal stations. 

Recently, Cabinet also expressed concern over vandalism of Zesa infrastructure and put into spotlight the effectiveness of the 10-year mandatory sentence for those convicted with some stakeholders suggesting a 20-year sentence. 

It is believed that those vandalising Zesa infrastructure are finding a ready market locally and outside the country for transformer oil and copper cables sold as scrap. 

The copper cables are being smuggled mainly to South Africa where there is a ready market for them hence vandals are even risking their lives to cut the cables. 

Many cases of vandals being electrocuted while cutting live wires have been reported but this has not deterred the vandals. 

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