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Sabotage sparks crisis

The Welkom central business district, the industrial area and Bronville were engulfed in a total blackout for more than 16 hours on Monday and Tuesday after armed criminals held the security guards at the bulk intake substation at gunpoint and sabotaged the electrical system.

Welkom was entirely crippled, and the paralysed electrical grid caused telephone lines, WiFi, data lines and security systems to collapse.

Many outlets in the banking sector, and even some retailers, were forced to close.

Because of the extended blackout, generators ran out of petrol and had to be refilled more than once. The electricity was only restored late afternoon on Tuesday.

According to Kgojane Matutle, municipal spokesperson, the economy of Welkom took a severe hit, and damage estimated at the substation is in excess of R156 000.

The sabotage started at about 22:50 on Monday when multiple cables were cut and taken by the armed criminals, says Matutle.

“It is believed that the vandals are familiar with the municipal infrastructure and the municipal premises. This was pure sabotage, as the cable stolen has little street value and most of what was left behind was just damaged. To fix the mess took a lot of time. The disaster incon­venienced businesspeople and the community at large. The heavy rain on Tuesday made it virtually impossible to re-join all of the tiny cables that were damaged. A large contingent of Eskom engineers were called in to assist us,” says Matutle.

“The substation security officers were held at gunpoint. This situation calls for a concerted effort from the SAPS and other law enforcement agencies. In the past two months more than six municipal employees have been arrested in connection with cable theft and theft of municipal property.

“Two municipal interns were also arrested at the municipal workshop after breaking in at night, and their vehicle was confiscated with stolen property in it. We appeal to the community and the businesspeople to assist the police in arresting the members of the syndicate we suspect are responsible for the sabotage and theft.

“Together we can do more. We also need to kill the market and make it difficult for thieves to sell the stolen property and copper cable,” says Matutle.

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