/ 25 January 2023

Experts warn of security threats brought by load-shedding

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House burglaries are on the rise and the banking sector and cash distribution industry consider the risks. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The frequency of load-shedding has resulted in an increase in house burglaries during the power cuts, and there are also related security risks to the banking and the cash distribution industry, experts have said.

Claims from insurance companies have shown a rise, with burglaries taking place during load-shedding particularly on weekends, Gareth Newham, the head of governance of the crime and justice division at the Institute of Security Studies, told a briefing at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

Eskom has only recently downgraded the rotational black outs to stages three and four, after putting the country on stage six load-shedding for several days, with some areas experiencing up to 12 hours a day without electricity.

“Load-shedding is a very worrying factor that powers on to a number of other factors that weaken our public security situation and the ability of the state to effectively respond to that situation,” Newham said.

Nischal Mewalall, the chief executive of South African Banking Risk Information Centre, said steps had been taken to evaluate and identify “the type of scenarios that could develop” as a result of load-shedding, which Eskom has warned could continue at stages two and three for the next two years.

He said the banking industry had looked at the effect that load-shedding has on banks’ operations and functions, as well as the crime and security problems associated with it.

“The areas we focused on have been on cash management and the availability of cash in the system. The second area has been the communication between bank customers, employees and stakeholders, and law enforcement agencies,” he said.

Grant Clark, of Cash-in-Transit Association of South Africa, said load-shedding was extremely concerning for the cash distribution industry, adding that collaborative efforts were being put into place to deal with a total blackout.

The economy would shut down within three days if cash distributions stopped, Clark said, adding that it was costly for cash centres and branches to run security systems during power cuts.

“It costs a lot of money to put in the generation systems and we see those costs going up all the time,” he said.

Lunga Dweba, of the Geopolitical Intelligence Advisory, said he was more concerned about possible violence during protest action in response to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa’s (Nersa) recent approval of an 18.65% electricity tariff increase for Eskom.

Using the July 2021 unrest as an example, Dweba said he was worried about the growing appetite for lawlessness in South Africa.

“The [whereabouts] of those who planned [the 2021 riots] are not known, except the few that were arrested, who are not the planners. Of concern are acts that are planned and executed without a trace,” he added.