Soldiers nab cable theft suspect at Camden power station

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That foot patrols remain integral to military operations and taskings is shown again by part-time soldiers temporarily stationed at Camden power station outside Ermelo in Mpumalanga.

The soldiers on duty there are from the Barberton-based General Botha Regiment and support Eskom security personnel.

Soldiers from the regiment’s Alpha Company were patrolling on foot when called to assist by the power station’s resident security personnel. The call followed suspects caught on site by closed circuit TV (CCTV).

Four suspects were picked up on camera and three made good their escape before they could be apprehended. Suspect number four – a South African citizen, according to Lieutenant Fundiswa Xaba – had with him bolt cutters, a hacksaw and 20m of copper cable valued at R8 400.

The company of Reserve Force soldiers are among 400 plus activated by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise and approved by President Cyril Ramaphosa, as Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). The deployment is part of the standing Operation Prosper tasking. Three more, as yet unnamed, Reserve Force units along with six regular SA Army units provide a total of 2 700 soldiers, with 442 active at any one time. The deployment started in mid-December and is scheduled to finish on 31 March.

Apart from arresting suspects for theft and wanton damage to Eskom infrastructure, the SA Army reportedly deployed Engineer Formation personnel to assist Eskom technical staff.

By February, well past the halfway mark of the current deployment, soldiers had apprehended 48 suspects at six power station grounds in Mpumalanga. In addition to Camden the other stations where soldiers currently assist with infrastructure protection are Duvha, Grootvlei, Kendal, Kriel and Tutuka.

Work on Camden power station started in November 1962 with commissioning in 1967 making it a starting point of the series of 400 kV lines national power grid, according to Eskom. It was one of three power stations mothballed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. According to the government-owned power generator and supplier Camden’s return to service was completed in March 2010 with the station “fully commercial”.

The deployment mandate for this specific tasking notes, among others, soldiers will protect national key points and critical infrastructure “with specific reference to declared hotspot areas”. They are also mandated to undertake patrols; preserve life and protect property; operate roadblocks and vehicle control points (VCPs); as well as undertake cordon and search operations. All taskings are and will be done in co-operation with the SA Police Service (SAPS).

The current Eskom deployment is estimated to cost the SANDF R206 million. Last year R37 million was spent by the SANDF on this deployment.