Vandalism and theft of municipal infrastructure: Reversing the gains of local government

Every financial year, Emfuleni continues to count millions lost in the distribution of water and electricity due to theft, illegal connections and vandalism of our ageing infrastructure. These losses come at a time when the municipality is battling non-payment of municipal accounts by residents. Emfuleni strives to deliver basic services in an affordable and sustainable manner in an era plagued by challenges which include revenue losses, underpayment of municipal services accounts and vandalism of municipal infrastructure.

The municipality’s public safety department has been hard at work pursuing thieves who are targeting municipal infrastructure, stealing cables and plunging residential areas and busy roads into darkness. Today, the street lights along the R42, an artillery road linking the retail hub of Bedworthpark in Vanderbijlpark with Vereeniging, Sharpeville and Sasolburg, have been rendered useless by continued criminal activities. Thieves have dug up cables, leaving open trenches next to the road, causing a serious hazard for motorists, who also have to drive in the dark in the evenings.

Besides the obvious safety factor, the municipality is forced to spend the little financial resources it has in its coffers to attend to consequences of theft and vandalism, which when left unattended, could lead to loss of life.Street lights along the R42

Violent service delivery protests have also collapsed municipal infrastructure in different residential areas in our wards in recent years. It is a fact known around the world that South Africans are vocal and will always remind their government that, “Nothing for us, without us.” While we respect the residents’ right to protest, we must condemn violent protests that often lead to the vandalism, theft and damage to municipal infrastructure.

A case in point is the Bophelong intersection where an arterial road linking Vanderbijlpark to Johannesburg is today without traffic lights after they were damaged during a protest over electricity. Such acts of public violence place further burden on municipal finances simply because money meant for other projects and activities, must now be diverted to the reinstallation of the traffic lights. We must never allow concerns of the public to degenerate into acts of destruction of property through violent public unrest.Vandalised traffic lights on R57 near Bophelong

During the period March 2016 to April 2017, the municipality intervened and facilitated over eighty one (81) public protests. Of these, 69 were successfully resolved with 13 outstanding, leading to an 85% protest resolution rate. This proves that we remain committed to attending to concerns raised by our people and violent public unrest over services only further exacerbates the municipality’s dire financial position.

The impact of inflationary pressures, salary increases, increases in the bulk purchase of electricity and water, cost of goods and services for repairs and maintenance and infrastructure upgrades as well as vandalism and theft can only be minimized through active partnerships with our residents – who must report theft and vandalism in their wards to the municipality.

Vandalism and theft of municipal infrastructure all reverse the gains of our municipality, redirecting millions of rands which could have been invested into other critical service delivery initiatives, at a time when our municipality is faced with gross financial challenges.

By Wandisile Kunene


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