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The devastating effects of cable theft on South Africa’s economy will come under the microscope when City Power – the City of Johannesburg’s electricity utility – hosts the 64th edition of the African Municipal Electricity Utilities (AMEU) Convention at Gallagher Estate in Midrand next week.

The three-day gathering – to be held from Monday October 6 to Wednesday October 8 – comes as several suburbs in Johannesburg are still reeling from a protracted water crisis that hit the city after an electricity cable was stolen from a Rand Water plant, rendering the facility unable to supply water to many areas.

Last year alone, South Africa lost more than R300 million to cable theft, fuelling calls for legislation to be passed declaring it treasonous. City Power itself spent more than R30 million last year replacing stolen cables.

On Monday, on the opening day of the convention, delegates representing various stakeholders will have an intensive roundtable discussion on whether cable theft should be classified as economic sabotage.

This comes in the wake of a statement, at the height of the Johannesburg water crisis, by Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane calling for “issues of cable theft to be dealt with as economic sabotage”.

“The justice system must not deal with them as petty crimes, but as economic crimes,” Minister Mokonyane said at the time.

Johannesburg Executive Mayor Mpho Parks Tau will, as the convention’s host, set the tone when he delivers his welcoming speech.

Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson will deliver the keynote address on the opening day of the convention, which will be held under the theme: “Moving Towards Southern Africa’s Electricity Networks of the Future.”

Other speakers lined up for the convention include Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown; National Energy Regular of South Africa’s Chief Executive Officer, Phindile Baleni; and City Power’s Xolani Lembede and Riaan Swanepoel.

Other themes that will be explored during the convention include smart grids, tariffs/pricing, embedded power generation, smart metering, network planning and performance, and training and development.