The theft of copper disrupts the flow of telecommunications, electricity, water supply, heating, and security and emergency services and presents a risk to both public safety and national security. Copper thefts are occurring throughout the country and are perpetrated by individuals and organized groups motivated by quick profits among other selfish reasons.
Copper thieves are threatening Eswatini’s critical infrastructure by targeting telephone lines, electrical sub-stations, and cellular towers for lucrative profits.
EPTC spends millions of Emalangeni replacing stolen and vandalised copper to ensure existing customers remain connected while foregoing plans for copper alternatives and network expansion as all these are capital intensive.
The Price for Copper Theft
Tax payers, consumers and customers end up paying the price by getting compromised service quality and speeds. Instead of deploying more infrastructure and expanding our network coverage, we find ourselves replacing damaged and stolen copper. EPTC is trying to expand the infrastructure to reach more place while at the same time keeping existing customers connected – network expansion and investing in copper alternatives then moves at a snail pace.
EPTC customers end up getting compromised service quality and speeds. Poor connectivity and reduced speeds as a results of copper theft where the Corporation tries to re-route traffic to other existing lines in an effort to continue providing services to customers. Re-routing traffic from a cut line to another line that already has its own customers who are using it, customers end up sharing which compromises service quality and speeds. In some areas it becomes impossible to replace the copper and customers end up not getting any service at all.
Effects of Copper Theft
Beyond the direct costs to EPTC, the vandalising and theft of copper cables compromise other industries, utilities and services and affects every aspect of our country from the economy to daily individual lives.
Health: copper is connecting hospitals and clinics in the country through the Tele-Medicine projects spear headed by EPTC to ensure medical care for all. Emaswati in rural areas and urban areas have the same access to medical experts in the country and across the borders. Doctors are able to video call each other and discuss patients’ medical cases to come up with solutions. The same doctors are able to attend to patients in both rural and urban areas through the internet connection enabled by copper cables.
Industries and businesses: Eswatini is home to a number of industries who employ Emaswati and export their good and products to other countries, for example sugar, textile and others. These industries source their raw materials outside the country and most of their customers are outside the country. If copper is stolen, they are unable to produce which results in job losses. The theft of copper cable affects the ability of businesses to operate and to compete both nationally and internationally, thus creating a direct impediment to our country’s economic growth.
Education: students in the country are taught subjects that will make them gain skills that are most needed in the economy and help them gain access to international universities. People get brighter futures through good education. EPTC has connected schools in rural areas to the internet to close the digital divide in the education sector. Copper theft robs students of good education and access to study materials and classes.
Making Progress towards a Solution
Together with other affected entities, EPTC has long cooperated with REPS in raising awareness about copper theft and how community members can play a part in combating copper theft. The focus of this partnership is to strengthen reporting and ensuring cases are prosecutable and the criminals are punished for their crimes.