Economists and captains of industry say this is hurting the economy
South Africa – A silent and deadly crime robs South Africa of billions each year. It affects the lives of ordinary citizens. It has a negative impact on economic growth, putting jobs and food security at risk. This crime is one that most South Africans are aware of, but have chosen to ignore. Until recently it has not been regarded as a serious crime. The crime in question is electricity theft.

Analysts and experts have warned that unless the crime is dealt with, South Africa’s development plans will be severely compromised. “A sustainable and reliable electricity supply is one of the most important enablers of economic development,” says an analyst.

The harsh reality of this has hit home for many businesses in South Africa, large and small, as power outages continue to plague many areas of the country. Whilst there are many reasons for power outages, electricity theft has been blamed for many of them.

Non-insulated wires and illegal connections not only damage vital infrastructure, but also make it extremely difficult to manage supply and demand at a time when South Africa faces a situation of tight supply.

When the power goes out, it’s more than an inconvenience. Businesses lose thousands of rands or are forced to use alternate emergency energy supplies.  All of this has an impact on the economy. A study in 2005 found that the economic cost of power outages amounted to over 5% of Gross Domestic Product.

Business and government have come together to combat this economic sabotage. “The work of electricity theft perpetrators has staggering ripple effects on ordinary consumers’ pockets and the country’s economy as a whole. It is the civic and moral duty of every South African to report crimes, including electricity theft,” says Proudly South African CEO, Adv. Leslie Sedibe.

A national partnership campaign, Operation Khanyisa, aims to deal decisively with electricity theft and help secure a reliable and increasing electricity supply to feed South Africa’s economic growth.

The campaign’s core partners include organisations such as Business Against Crime, Business Unity South Africa, Crime Line, Eskom and the South African Local Government Association.

“Whatever short-term gains there are for electricity theft and whatever excuses people may offer, it’s time to do the right thing and for all South Africans to stand together for legal, safe and efficient electricity use,” says Maboe Maphaka, Senior Manager for Energy Trading and Sales Forecasting at Eskom.

Government is assisting poor households with the cost of electricity through the Free Basic Electricity Grant or FBE. The grant is managed by local governments and provides for basic power needs.

Operation Khanyisa has called upon all in the business, industrial, commercial and agricultural sectors to treat legal electricity consumption as part of good corporate governance.

“After all,” Maphaka continued, “we all have to declare that we are tax-compliant if we are to be taken seriously in the business community. So why should the same not apply to electricity consumption?”

The corporate community is being asked to go further than ensuring their own electricity supply is legal. They are asked to build a chain of good governance by spreading the message and requiring that their business partners and suppliers do the same.

Operation Khanyisa has also called upon the auditing professionals in South Africa to take up electricity theft as a serious business risk.

The campaign has created many platforms for South Africans to join the movement. It works closely with Crime Line, an anonymous tip-off line number, 32211 (R1/SMS) where citizens can give details of any suspected activity around electricity theft.

The South African Police Services and the National Prosecution Authority supports Operation Khanyisa. They have already begun to identify and arrest perpetrators, who will not get off lightly.