Six suspected thieves of Zesa transformers, accessories and cables were arrested recently, with the first now in the early days of his mandatory 10-year jail term, but vandalism and theft of electricity installations is still rising with 30-year mandatory jail terms now being proposed.
Recent cases were reported in Waterfalls, Harare, Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo, Nyamupfuta Farm in Guruve, Mashonaland Central, Norton and Featherstone.
The most damaging was the theft of Mpilo electricity cables a week ago, which disrupted hospital operations.
Patients could not get their meals on schedule as the hospital resorted to coal to cook food. The renal or kidney unit had to be closed temporarily, threatening the lives of the patients. Most departments had to be switched to diesel-powered generators to ensure they stayed open for at least emergency cases.
But the police are now striking back.
Three people — Obvious Jeye, Charles Jeye and Gladman Shereni — were arrested with the help of members of the public at Dangarendove in Featherstone. They had allegedly stolen armoured cables which were recovered upon their arrest.
In Norton, police said two suspects were nabbed after alert police officers intercepted them, while they were in the process of vandalising a Zesa transformer. A follow-up by the police led to the recovery of implements which they were using to commit similar offences.
And in Guruve, 25-year-old Airstrip Zhoya was given the mandatory 10-year jail term last week by Guruve resident magistrate, Mr Shingirai Mutiro. He was arrested after being found in possession of 40,5 kilogrammes of copper cables valued at $2 220.
The upsurge in theft and vandalism of electricity transformers has prompted Cabinet to approve an Amendment to the Electricity Act to introduce stiffer penalties for crimes related to electricity theft, the destruction of and tampering with electricity infrastructure.
Under the proposed amendments, tampering without lawful excuse with any apparatus for generating, transmitting, distributing or supplying electricity with the result that any supply of electricity is cut off or interrupted, which used to attract an imprisonment of not less than 10 years, will attract not less than 30 years of imprisonment.
But members of the public are also helping Zesa. In some areas local residents have clubbed together to wall off transformers and include substations in the security perimeter of a neighbouring house.
In Guruve recently, they went further. Alert members of the community foiled the vandalism of an electricity transformer at Nyamupfuta Farm.
Acting Mashonaland Central provincial police spokesperson, Assistant Inspector Fidelis Dhewu said that on February 29 at around 1am, Asenzi Tapfudza Kachembere (69) of Nyamupfuta Farm in Guruve was sleeping in his house when he heard something falling down with a thud.
"He became suspicious and woke up. He peeped through the window and observed that a transformer which was 30-metres from his homestead had been dismantled by unknown accused persons. The suspects were still at the crime scene," said Ass Insp Dhewu.
He said Kachembere sent text messages to his neighbours who reacted and teamed up to investigate what was happening at the transformer.
"The suspects fled upon discovering that the members of the community where approaching them. The residents discovered that the transformer had been dismantled and removed from its original position, but not completely vandalised.
"A report was made at Guruve Police Station and police attended the scene. No arrests were made and investigations are in progress," he said.
Ass Insp Dhewu commended the alert Guruve community for their swift reaction. "We commend the alert informant and his counterparts for their rapid response to protect the infrastructure. People should be alert and respond to ascertain what had happened.
"Communication is vital between community members, police and other relevant stakeholders to prevent the loss of property and arresting of criminals," he said.
Although Ass Insp Dhewu said cases of vandalism and theft of electricity transformers were on the decrease in Mashonaland Central, in her 2020 First Cabinet Matrix briefing to the Press last month, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said more than 927 transformers were either been vandalised or stolen in the Northern Region, 625 in the Western Region, 525 in Harare Region and 94 in the Eastern Region.