East London businesses battling stoppages due to cable theft

Image: 123rf.com/Thanasak Boonchoong

Cable theft in East London’s Braelyn industrial zone has become so rampant that tombstone manufacturers are unable to meet demand due to power outages.

At least three factories in the area are being affected by the scourge, having to shut down operations for days at a time.

With Covid-19 deaths rising in the Eastern Cape the demand for tombstones has soared, but Unathi Zicwele, the owner of Amani Funerals, cannot keep up.

Zicwele employs six people and a number of temporary workers, but the business is losing R10,000 a week through interruptions to the electricity supply.

“If someone passes away they have to be buried within days. This [cable theft] is affecting production and in these times of Covid-19 people can’t wait long for a tombstone,” Zicwele said.

“Sometimes we have to work overtime to make up time lost. This is putting our reputation at risk because as a manufacturer we can’t always deliver tombstones on time.”

On Monday she had to relocate manufacturing equipment to her home to ensure she could meet orders — an arduous and expensive process in itself.

“Most of our clients are policy holders so we can’t give them stories when they have to bury loved ones.”

Jackie van der Linde of VH Powder Coating employees six people. She said all these jobs were now at stake because of cable theft in the area, where street lighting was now non-existent.

This week alone she had reported three power outages to Buffalo City municipality, and on Friday another 120m of cable was reported stolen in the vicinity.   

“We see cables being cut every day. Since May, we’ve had more than three cable theft incidents and we had to shut down operations for three full business days,”  Van der Linde said.

“They also broke into our workshop and stole a number of tools. Security officers in all the surrounding businesses are taunted by these thieves.”

On Friday last week, equipment worth R40,000 was stolen from her workshop. She opened a case with Fleet Street police. DispatchLIVE has seen the case number she was provided.

“After that [break-in] we couldn’t work because there was no power and we needed to replace the stolen equipment.

“We are on edge all the time thinking about when the alarm company is going to phone us about a break-in. Now I have a R40,000 bill I have to pay. This is all happening during lockdown when our cash flow is gone. This is killing the business,” she said.

Van de Linde said she would have to install at least two spotlights at the entrance to the business because of the lack of street lighting.

“We’ll do that at our own cost. This week we also had to upgrade our alarm system at a cost of more than R4,000.”

Both Zicwele and Van de Linde also accused municipal refuse collection staff of not collecting rubbish unless bribes were paid to them.

“They tried to get a bribe from my husband to collect our rubbish, but we refused to pay. We reported that to the BCM,” said Van der Linde.

Zicwele said: “Since I last year October I only remember them picking up rubbish once. They just go past this street without taking the rubbish.” 

Debbie Westerburg of Selago, a company that manufactures motor parts, said that two weeks ago thieves had cut down an electricity pole in front of the reception area and the pole had damaged to her building.

She said the business lost R10,000 a day if there was no  electricity.

“That pole fell on top of our archives room and if it had rained all our documents would have been damaged.

“That interruption meant we had to stop production for a whole day. Our insurance provider declined to cover the costs of fixing the damage,” she said.

DA councillor Sue Bentley said cable theft was rife all over the metro.

“Police should also patrol these areas and BCM should have a unit that protects its assets, otherwise we’ll keep paying to replace the same things,”  Bentley said.  

“The lights have to be fixed by BCM and they need to realise that these businesses pay rates and they are not getting a return.”

She said allegations of misconduct against the refuse collection workers should be investigated and those found to be in the wrong prosecuted.

Bentley added that BCM spending was “totally misguided” after the metro announced the construction of a Water World for R103m at Leaches Bay and the R87m Court Crescent Recreational Park Development project on the East London beachfront.

Detailed inquiries were sent to Eastern Cape police spokesperson Captain Khaya Tonjeni and BCM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya but neither had responded at the time of writing on Friday.


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