Cities are being brought "to their knees" by unprecedented pilfering of copper and aluminium cables, which has caused extensive blackouts and power cuts as organised gangs plunder miles of the country's electricity and telephone lines to sell abroad as scrap.
Officials believe that up to 100 miles of cables may be going missing every year, destined for markets such as China and India where booming economies have created insatiable demand for copper and aluminium.
The thieves generally work by night, armed with trucks, winches, industrial cutting machines and tractors to flatten the pylons and poles that carry their booty.
The result has been entire suburbs plunged into darkness, thousands of train passengers stranded, and frequent chaos on the roads as traffic lights fail.
advertisementBacked by a network of unscrupulous dealers who smelt their spoils down, many gangs are also stealing water meters, taps and even ladders, said Cape Town councillor Pieter van Dalen, a member of a 15-strong "cable theft task team" set up to fight the problem.
One would think that the example of Zimbabwe next door would be a warning to the people and government of South Africa. Apparently it's not.