In an ironic twist of fate, a Bulawayo man, who sustained horrific burns while allegedly attempting to steal a Zesa high voltage transformer at Mpilo Central Hospital, could not be fully attended to for three days as the hospital had no electricity following theft of cables by unknown suspects.
Ishmael Mpofu (25) sustained burns while allegedly attempting to steal a 1 000-volt transformer at Mpilo Central Hospital on Saturday and was immediately admitted to the same institution. The hospital then experienced a power outage between Monday night and Wednesday evening after a suspected syndicate stole electric cables.
Doctors said due to the serious nature of Mpofu’s burns, there was a danger of his internal organs collapsing.
They described as “touch and go” the days during the blackout as most of the equipment needed to save Mpofu’s life was powered by the same electricity he tried to deprive the hospital of.
Following the restoration of power yesterday, all hands are on deck at the hospital to assist him. Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said although the situation was sad, the patient got first-hand experience of challenges associated with theft of electricity infrastructure at hospitals.
He said they incurred a bill of about US$2 400 after running the biggest referral hospital in the southern region on diesel generators.
“We need the money to buy drugs and other hospital consumables but these are the things that end up contributing to patients being told to buy this and that, because these are unforeseeable and unnecessary costs,” he said.
“We found it very ironic that someone who was stealing electricity cables at our hospital was hospitalised under our care. We also suffered cable theft three days ago and he had to endure the difficulties that we had when we were relying mainly on generators.”
He said it was worrying that thieves are so hardhearted as to cut power that is supposed to help save lives.
“They are so daring that they are cutting off power to a strategic lifesaving institution like Mpilo Central Hospital. We wish the suspect a speedy recovery and we hope that other people are deterred from stealing electricity infrastructure. Electricity is a vital life serving utility and at the same time it can kill,” he said.
Prof Ngwenya said Mpofu’s condition was critical but it had stabilised. “Doctors are treating him, because he sustained very serious burns and he is very lucky to be alive. From the type of burns he suffered and the voltage that hit him, he is very lucky to be alive,” said Prof Ngwenya.
Chronicle yesterday missed out on speaking to the suspect who is now under Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) guard at Mpilo Central Hospital.
The suspect, although struggling to speak, was willing to tell his story about how he got roped into the electricity infrastructure vandalism syndicate but prison authorities refused to let him do so.
The theft and vandalism of electricity infrastructure is a major concern for the country with Government saying it is tantamount to sabotaging the economy. Last month, Cabinet approved a 30-year mandatory jail sentence for those who steal or vandalise power infrastructure.
Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, said Government is set to amend a law governing handling of copper in the country.
“Cabinet considered and approved the Copper Control Amendment Bill, which was presented by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs (Ziyambi Ziyambi), as Chairman of Cabinet Committee on Legislation. Cabinet was informed that the Bill seeks to provide for the offence of vandalism of utilities through the theft of copper which is then sold on the black market,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.
“In order to curb theft of copper, the police will require anyone found in possession of copper to provide the names and addresses of both the seller and the purchaser, description and quantity of the copper and the reasons for disposal. Convicted copper thieves will now be liable to imprisonment for a period of not less than 30 years without the option of a fine. In addition, any vehicle or device used to illegally transport copper will now be forfeited to the State,” she said.
The rampant theft of cables has also seen Zesa replacing some copper cables with aluminium. Chronicle