Rise Of Precision Agriculture Exposes Food System To New Threats

Farmers are adopting precision agriculture, using data collected by GPS, satellite imagery, internet-connected sensors and other technologies to farm more efficiently. While these practices could help increase crop yields and reduce costs, the technology behind the practices is creating opportunities for extremists, terrorists and adversarial governments to attack farming machinery, with the aim of disrupting food production.

Food producers around the world have been under increasing pressure, a problem exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and rising fuel and fertilizer costs. Farmers are trying to produce more food but with fewer resources, pushing the food production system toward its breaking point.

In this environment, it’s understandable that many U.S. farmers are turning to modern information technologies to support decision-making and operations in managing crop production. These precision agriculture practices lead to more efficient use of land, water, fuel, fertilizer and pesticides so that farmers can grow more, reduce costs and minimize their impact on the environment.

rows of plants growing out of black plastic bags, some with metal poles and wires holding white plastic devices attached to the plants
Precision agriculture can include sensors that monitor crops, such as these avocado plants.
Simple loquat/Wikimedia

As researchers in cybersecurity and national security at the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center, we see cause for concern. The advent of precision farming comes at a time of significant upheaval in the global supply chain and as the number of foreign and domestic hackers with the ability to exploit this technology continues to grow.

New opportunities for exploitation

Cyberattacks against agricultural targets are not some far-off threat; they are already happening. For example, in 2021 a ransomware attack forced a fifth of the beef processing plants in the U.S. to shut down, with one company paying nearly $11 million to cybercriminals. REvil, a Russia-based group, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Similarly, a grain storage cooperative in Iowa was targeted by a Russian-speaking group called BlackMatter, who claimed that they had stolen data from the cooperative. While previous attacks have targeted larger companies and cooperatives and aimed to extort the victims for money, individual farms could be at risk, too.

three squat cylindrical structures with conical tops connected by a pipe stand in a row perpendicular to a cluster of narrower, taller vertical cylindrical structures topped by a catwalk
This grain storage facility is run by New Cooperative, a farm cooperative in Iowa that was hit by a ransomware attack in 2021.
Jstuby/Wikimedia

The integration of technologies into farm equipment, from GPS-guided tractors to artificial intelligence, potentially increases the ability of hackers to attack this equipment. And though farmers might not be ideal targets for ransomware attacks, farms could be tempting targets for hackers with other motives, including terrorists.

For example, an attacker could look to exploit vulnerabilities within fertilizer application technologies, which could result in a farmer unwittingly applying too much or too little nitrogen fertilizer to a particular crop. A farmer could then end up with either a below-expected harvest, or a field that has been over fertilized, resulting in waste and long-term environmental ramifications.

Slow to appreciate the threat

Disruption to sensitive industries and infrastructure gives attackers higher returns for their efforts. This means that the increasing stress on the global food supply raises the stakes and creates a stronger motivation to disrupt the U.S. agriculture sector.

Unlike other critical industries such as finance and health care, the farming industry has been slow to recognize cybersecurity risks and take steps to mitigate them. There are several possible reasons for this sluggishness.

One is that many farmers and agricultural providers haven’t viewed cybersecurity as a significant enough problem compared with other risks they face such as floods, fires and hail. A 2018 Department of Homeland Security report that surveyed precision agriculture farmers throughout the U.S. found that many did not fully understand the cyberthreats introduced by precision agriculture, nor did they take these cyber-risks seriously enough.

This lack of preparedness leads to another reason: limited oversight and regulation from government. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture classified cybersecurity as a low priority. While this classification was upgraded in 2015, the farming sector is likely to be playing catch-up for years. While other critical infrastructure industries have developed and published numerous countermeasures and best practices for cybersecurity, the same cannot be said for the farming sector.

The Biden administration has indicated that it is willing to help farmers take steps to protect their cyber infrastructure, but as of this writing it has not released public guidelines to assist with this effort.

All-hands approach

In addition to the pressing need for policy guidance and resources from federal, state and local governments to prevent this type of cyberattack, there is room for academia and industry to step up.

From an academic research perspective, multidisciplinary efforts that bring together researchers from precision agriculture, robotics, cybersecurity and political science can help identify potential solutions. To this end, we and researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have launched the Security Testbed for Agricultural Vehicles and Environments.

Farming equipment manufacturers and other industry organizations can help by designing and engineering equipment to account for cybersecurity considerations. This would lead to the manufacture of farming equipment that not only maximizes food production yields but also minimizes exposure to cyberattacks.The Conversation

George Grispos, Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity, University of Nebraska Omaha and Austin C. Doctor, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Nebraska Omaha

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

WhatsApp Now Gives You Two Days To Delete Messages After Sending

Meta-owned messaging platform WhatsApp now allows you to delete messages for up to two days after they are sent. Previously, this limit was 1 hour, 8 minutes, and 16 seconds.

“Rethinking your message? Now you will have a little over two days to delete your messages from your chats after you hit send,” the platform wrote on Twitter.

 

Also read: Facebook is Shutting Down Its Live Shopping Feature To Focus On Reels

Facebook is Shutting Down Its Live Shopping Feature To Focus On Reels

24% of South African Adults To Bank Virtually By 2023

Neobanking is set to boom in South Africa, with nearly a quarter (24%) of South African internet users expected to have a digital-only bank account by 2023, according to Finder’s Neobanking Adoption Report.

Finder’s survey of 2,179 South African internet users reveals around 15% of adults currently have a neobank account and an additional 9% plan to open one by 2023.

With a further 6% planning to open a neobank account by 2027, just under a third (31%) could have a neobank within five years.

Finder’s global fintech editor, Elizabeth Barry, says neobanks are increasingly popular with consumers.

“Neobanks allow consumers to set up an account from the comfort of their own homes. They’re usually quick to set up, low fee and focus heavily on providing a great customer experience.

“However neobanks do still require an internet connection and proof of identity so they’re not necessarily a silver bullet for the unbanked.

“Neobanks are particularly popular with men – nearly 18% of men say they have a neobank account compared to 12% of women.”

Finder conducted the survey across 14 markets to reveal neobanking adoption in South Africa is at similar levels to Portugal (14%) and ahead of markets like the US (8%).

Of the countries included in the study Brazil (43%) and India (26%) have the highest percentage of adults with neobank accounts, followed by Ireland (22%) and Singapore (21%).

Digital bank adoption by country, ranked

  1. Brazil – 43%
  2. India – 26%
  3. Ireland – 22%
  4. Singapore – 21%
  5. Hong Kong – 20%
  6. The United Arab Emirates – 19%
  7. Mexico – 17%
  8. Spain – 17%
  9. South Africa – 15%
  10. Germany – 14%
  11. Portugal – 14%
  12. Malaysia – 13%
  13. The Philippines – 13%
  14. The United States – 8%

27four Investment Managers Implement PE Front Office

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27four Investment Managers, a South Africa-based asset management and advisory firm, has implemented PE Front Office to enhance its Private Markets operations.

PE Front Office, the end-to-end integrated solution for Alternative Investment Management, announced the engagement.

27four can now use the PE Front Office Platform to enhance its Private Markets operations.

The software supports fund of funds operations in particular, which has been a key focus of 27four’s Private Markets team to date.

It has numerous capabilities including; Deal Flow Management, Investment Management, Portfolio Monitoring, Investor Relations Management, and Fund Administration augmented by CRM, Document Management, Reports & Analytics, Outlook/Gmail Plugins and Mobile App.

Head of Private Markets at 27four, Rory Ord, said: ”The system has great relevance in the Private Markets investment industry and will enable us to efficiently monitor various aspects of our operations, whether it’s deal flow across our various Private Markets mandates as well as tracking exposure and performance across our portfolio companies.

“Harnessing the power of data, through the use of a tool like PE Front Office, is intended to better inform our deal-making decisions in future.”

Raghav Gupta, Senior Director of PE Front Office, spoke on this association: “We’re proud to have been selected as one of 27four’s preferred investment management technology partners. We look forward to continuing our support of 27four as they grow their Private Markets offering”.

Investing In Cryptocurrencies With CFDs: Is It Worth It?

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Image credit: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/bitcoin-cryptocurrency-currency-4728496/

 

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have always been entirely legal. The best proof of this is that every investor has to pay tax on the income they get from bitcoin or similar currency transactions. However, some African countries consider cryptocurrency trading and transactions illegal.

Some cryptocurrency-based transactions, on the other hand, may be illegal. These include:

  • “stealing” cryptocurrencies;
  • cheating on cryptocurrency miners;
  • extorting;
  • avoiding paying taxes or hiding bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies from the government.

It may also be illegal to engage in activities that require an appropriate license or permit, such as the organization of a cryptocurrency lottery or a para-financial activity.

Investing in cryptocurrencies with CFDs

Trading BTC Contracts for Difference is an alternative to the classic exchange. It is possible through an account at AdmiralMarkets Broker. With the help of this CFD provider, you can “bet” how the price of a bitcoin or any other instrument will change – without physically owning it.

The CFD contract obliges the trader and broker to cover the difference between the opening price and the closing price of the position. This type of contract’s advantage is the ability to invest even when there is a downward trend in the BTC market. In addition, when you trade crypto CFDs with a trusted broker, your money is in your bank account instead of a crypto exchange account. Other advantages of using this solution through a trusted broker are as follows:

  • Possibility of using a lever,
  • The possibility of reinvesting the profit from the transaction because the payoff is added to the “free funds.”
  • Fast and free deposits/withdrawals,
  • Help in the event of a lost password,
  • Availability of short sale.

On the other hand, if you decide to invest in BTC on the stock exchange, you must consider challenges such as:

  • The risk of a hacker attack and the need to transfer cryptocurrencies to external wallets that are not connected to the Internet,
  • The need to purchase an external wallet and learn how to use it,
  • No help in the event of an error in sending the currency or forgetting the password,
  • High costs of transferring funds or long waiting times for its implementation.

In summary, you have three options to invest in bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies:

  • Purchase and sale on the stock exchange – transactions with a relatively high risk of loss,
  • Mining – extraction using encryption of the last transaction block; the process requires programming knowledge and specialized hardware from users,
  • Purchase of contracts for differences (CFDs) described above – if you want to check what this type of transaction is all about, use the forex demo test version.

Are cryptocurrencies safe?

Any transaction that involves investing money in the stock market or forex can be considered risky – it is no different in the case of BTC and other cryptocurrencies. In the currency market, this is due to the financial leverage, which allows you to multiply profits and potential losses. In turn, the risks on the cryptocurrency exchange are much more numerous. Among them can be distinguished:

  • Volatility – the cryptocurrency market requires a lot of time from the investor; you need to be prepared for high volatility and the need for constant price monitoring,
  • Low acceptance – there are still countries that do not accept cryptocurrencies; experts assume it will be a long time before widespread bitcoin-based transactions become possible,
  • Speculation and hacker attacks – the cryptocurrency market is full of people who artificially raise the price of bitcoin; there is also a risk of cyber attacks.

To reduce the risk, a user of BTC and other cryptocurrency exchanges can:

  • Store your capital in different places,
  • Always check the address of the website on which you log in and keep an eye on your passwords,
  • Invest no more than he can lose
  • Constantly expand your knowledge,
  • Diversify your portfolio (invest in various additional options, e.g., stocks, currencies, raw materials).

To minimize the high risk of losing money, use the services of an experienced brokerage house. Thanks to such brokers, you can afford to trade BTC and other currencies of this type via CFDs, which are an interesting and safer alternative to mining and trading bitcoins traditionally.

SA Government Publishes Policy Proposals On Measures To Address Scrap Metal Theft

The South African government has published draft proposals to address the widespread theft of copper cable and other forms of metal from public infrastructure that has crippled power supplies, left trains unable to operate and damaged public facilities in many parts of the country.

The proposals have been developed following consultations by the Departments of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic), Police, National Treasury, Mineral Resources and Energy, Public Enterprises (including state owned enterprises), and Transport and was published in the Government Gazette today by Minister Ebrahim Patel.

The draft measures propose a six-month export prohibition on scrap and waste metal, including copper cable, together with a permit system for export of specified semi-processed metal products.

This is the first of three envisaged phases, with further actions proposed in future that include a new, enhanced registration system for scrap buyers and sellers to improve monitoring, policing and law-enforcement, limitations on the ports and (potentially) border posts to be used for trade in scrap metal, and changes to the legislation to make it more difficult for stolen copper and metal to be traded.

In a notice in the Government Gazette published today, notice no 47202, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel invited public comments and representations on the proposed measures within 21 days, before final decisions are taken.

The measures were developed following sustained damage to public infrastructure from criminal theft of electricity cables, power pylons, railway tracks, traffic lights and manhole covers that has reached crisis levels. Criminals are targeting public infrastructure that taxpayers have invested in to expand service delivery to communities across the country.

The economic damage of copper theft alone has been estimated at more than R45 billion annually. This was the findings in research commissioned by the dtic from an independent research team from Genesis Analytics. Some examples illustrate the extent of the problem:

Transnet’s regularly published cable theft statistics show that during a single week in April 2022 there were 123 attacks on South Africa’s rail infrastructure, including the theft of 39.4 km of copper cable. It is estimated that between 2017 to 2021, the length of cable annually stolen from Transnet’s lines increased from 120 km to 724 km, and the number of incidents rose from fewer than 2 000 to almost 4 500.

Research found that the export of metal provides a crucial monetisation channel for criminals, and South Africa’s ports and borders are not adequately resourced to prevent the export of stolen scrap and semi-finished metal products. The sheer size of public infrastructure across the country made it necessary to identify additional measures that, together with improved policing, can be effective in protecting public assets in the national interest.

In February this year, President Ramaphosa committed in the State of the Nation Address that Government would take decisive steps to address the damage to public infrastructure from criminals who steal infrastructure containing metal and sell this to intermediaries who, for example, export the metal or disguise its origin and sell the metal to legitimate metal processors in South Africa.

There is growing public outrage at the damage that such theft does to South Africa’s economy through the additional cost of repairing and replacing damaged infrastructure, the inconvenience to workers and commuters from rail disruptions, the financial cost of electricity disruptions to businesses of all sizes, and the safety risk to our communities and especially children when criminals damage and leave behind exposed live electricity cables.

UWC’s First Coding And Robotics Club Is Ready To Inspire South Africa’s Future Roboteers

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Coding is coming closer to “tomorrow’s scientists” living in under-resourced communities near to the University of the Western Cape.

The Science Learning Centre for Africa (SLCA), as an extension of the university’s School of Science and Maths Education (SSME), has launched a Coding and Robotics Club that will train teachers in coding and robotics, exposing learners to cutting-edge technology.

Eight schools from areas including Belhar, Mitchell’s Plain, Delft and Khayelitsha are involved in the club’s pilot phase that offers short programmes for teachers in coding and robotics.

Speaking at Saturday’s event, which also marked the culmination of National Science Week, Professor Josef de Beer, Director of the SLCA, said that while South Africa has made great strides in science and technology, more must be done to improve science and maths education. “We need creative, innovative scientists with entrepreneurial mindsets,” he said.

Roboteers
Sheer delight as Sukúme Cabane, a Grade 8 pupil from Rosendaal High in Delft, fulfills her dream of flying a drone at the launch of UWC’s Coding and Robotics Club. Tashreeq Hanslo, one of the students involved in the club, keeps a watchful eye.

He urged teachers to focus on self-directed and problem-based learning, and highlighted that coding and robotics, which will become part of the Department of Basic Education’s national curriculum for the Foundation and Intermediate Phases from 2023, could enhance such self-directed learning. The SLCA strives to popularise science by exposing teachers and learners to innovative thinking. For example, it provides local schools with an origami-based microscope, the so-called Foldscope microscope, costing only $1, or R17, which teachers can use to do microscopic experiments. This commitment was also echoed by Prof Rajendran Govender, Dean of Education, who mentioned that the Faculty will be moving into a new building later this month, with state-of-the-art facilities to ensure world-class teaching and learning.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, Professor Vivienne Lawack said in a recorded message that UWC is committed to inspiring a new generation of scientists, engineers and ICT specialists. She noted that the launch coincided with Women’s Day, on 9 August, and urged girls to consider science as a career. Currently, only 13% of South African graduates with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, are women.

Addressing the “future roboteers” from several schools attending the launch, Dr Tony Williams, Curro curriculum manager: science, technology, engineering, art, maths, design/drones (STEAMD), said robotics in South Africa is not only sustainable, it is “exploding”, with innovative technology being used in various fields.

He delighted learners with videos showing what robots can do, and explained how children from local communities have already achieved considerable success locally and internationally by applying their knowledge of robotics and artificial intelligence. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here and change comes very quickly. We are already talking about the Fifth Industrial Revolution.”

Jonathan Freece, Western Cape Education Department Coordinator of Coding and Robotics, encouraged learners to “future-proof” themselves by learning as much as they can about science and robotics. “The subjects you are currently doing won’t be enough for the jobs of the future.”

The club is a “dream come true” for schools in communities without access to robotics and science resources, said teacher educator at UWC’s Faculty of Education, Nonhlanhla Shandu-Omukunyi. “The learners from Curro and Khayelitsha, for example, are very far apart. But by joining the club, we can bring them closer.”

For Sukúme Cabane, a Grade 8 learner from Rosendaal High in Delft, the highlight of the launch was the much-anticipated opportunity to fly a drone. “I have wanted to fly a drone since I was in Grade 3. I am definitely considering a career in science,” she said. The learners were able to engage with the drones and robots at the event.

HAVAÍC Takes R8.4 Million Bet On FinAccess To Grow Across Africa

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Cape Town-headquartered venture capital (VC) firm HAVAÍC this week announced a $500,000 or R8.4 million investment in FinAccess, an East African headquartered software solutions provider that digitises community banks or SACCOs (Savings & Credit Cooperative Organisations) and farming co-operatives (“co-ops”) in the region.

FinAccess is driving financial inclusion and unlocking financial services for many unbanked East Africans through its technology platform and widespread distribution.

Allocated from the VC firm’s $20 million HAVAÍC Universum Core African Fund, which closed in May, the investment is part of a pre-series A funding round to expand the company’s two core products, banking software solution Fincore and agricultural software solution Grobox.

Founded by CEO Barclay Paul Okari in 2017, FinAccess offers a market-leading, fully proprietary SaaS solution to SACCOs and co-ops. Barclay is a successful entrepreneur with an impressive track record of founding and selling startups. He has also been named on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list recognising young achievers at the forefront of innovation.

With the support of HAVAÍC in partnership with other investors, FinAccess will cement its market leadership in Kenya and expand into other markets. Live pilots are already underway in Uganda, with Zambia, Rwanda, and Tanzania launching in the coming months.

“FinAccess is solving critical problems for Africa’s underserved communities,” says Rob Heath, Partner at HAVAÍC and Director at FinAccess.

FinAccess
FinAccess

“The team’s growth and ability to perform over the last few years has been incredible to watch, and there is so much scope to continue growing across Kenya and beyond. FinAccess is 100% aligned with our investment thesis to make an impact by supporting early-stage, high-potential companies that solve real-world challenges through technology. We look forward to supporting their unfolding growth journey.”

Currently, the agriculture sector employs 65% of Africa’s population, yet only 1% of bank lending goes to agriculture, and the day-to-day operations of well-established SACCOs remain outdated and inefficient. FinCore digitises and automates the entire financial back office and product functions. The software solution significantly improves efficiency, transparency, reliability, and distribution by enabling SACCO members to access financial services and perform digital transactions via a mobile app or USSD interface.

Co-ops contribute to over 70% of all agricultural output in East Africa and face the same inefficiencies from outdated, manual systems. Grobox is an operations management software solution that tracks and records inventory, production, sales, payments, and finance data. Grobox opens the door to partnerships with financial institutions and subsequent access to essential services like embedded working capital for small-scale farmers.

“Financial inclusion for underserved Africans is at the heart of our business,” says Barclay. “Digitisation ultimately releases credit and other vital financial services so farmers can increase productivity and efficiency. We are very excited to partner with HAVAÍC and bring our software solutions to more African communities.”

The announcement follows HAVAÍC’s recent investments in ShopEx and Talk360, joining the VC’s thriving portfolio of 18 early-stage, high-potential African technology companies.

HAVAÍC’s portfolio companies now serve a combined 5 million customers in over 180 countries across the globe. In 2021, the portfolio raised US$110 million in fresh capital and increased revenue by 160%.

BLSA Ready To Help NPA With Scarce Skills To Tackle State Capture Graft

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Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) says it is ready to assist the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) with technical skills to tackle state capture.

Last week BLSA signed a memorandum of understanding with the NPA to support the prosecution authority with the technical skills it needs to mount effective prosecutions.

“I applaud the NPA’s willingness to take bold and innovative measures to ensure it has the resources it needs to deliver convictions,” said BLSA CEO Busi Mavuso in her weekly newsletter published Monday.

“The NPA is ramping up its efforts to respond to the Zondo Commission and will need specialised skills to support complex corruption cases, such as forensic accountants and data analysts.

“While the NPA has benefited from increases in funding to support its efforts, it will take time to recruit and train for the specialist skills it needs.”

Mavuso said the private sector has good capacity in complex investigations and the legal minds to draw together evidence to support successful prosecutions.

She said these are scarce skills that the private sector can mobilise quickly, while the NPA continues to build its own capacity for the long term.

The NPA must be able to deal with cases involving complex international crime, often with complex digital evidence requiring sophisticated tools to analyse and ultimately present to court.

“Of course, it is critical that the NPA functions independently and free of undue influence,” said Mavuso.

“The MOU protects that by ensuring any requests for assistance come from the NPA.”

She said BLSA has undertaken to identify expertise to support the NPA in response to specific requests.

Service providers will report to the NPA and be subject to all of the appropriate legal requirements in doing so.

“‘At the same time we are also conscious of the need to transfer skills to NPA staff.

“The MOU allows us to mobilise the best people in the private sector to work for the NPA to investigate and build cases for successful prosecutions.

“The MOU has taken time to finalise precisely because of the importance of ensuring it meets the NPA’s high standards of independence and integrity.”

She said BLSA’s motive is clear: “We support the rule of law. We have long done so through our Business Against Crime subsidiary and will now expand these efforts to support the NPA.

“The rule of law is essential for economies to work.

“State capture systematically undermined the institutions of our criminal justice system and all stakeholders today need to be part of the effort of repairing it.”

Mavuso said Business remains committed to doing its part – ultimately we want a criminal justice system that is capable and effective in bringing to justice those who violate our laws.

“That builds trust, enabling the economy. We need contracts to be enforced, crime to be punished and property protected.”

She added: “I am excited that we have reached this juncture and look forward to working with the NPA as well as all our members to swiftly support the authority in response to its requests”.

Eskom Says Load Shedding Suspended But System Remains Vulnerable

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State power utility Eskom says despite suspending load shedding, the power generation system remains vulnerable to breaking down.

The electricity supplier said it suspended load shedding as a result of increased generation capacity, lower demand and the recovery of emergency generation reserves.

“While we are able to suspend load shedding at this point, it is important to note that the generation system is still vulnerable to breakdowns and load shedding may be required. We therefore urge all South Africans to continue using electricity sparingly, especially during these uncertain times on the power system.

“Eskom will promptly communicate should a need arise,” Eskom said.

Acts of intimidation in Sibangweni village

Meanwhile, Eskom said it has withdrawn its services at Sibangweni village in the Eastern Cape after its officials faced “life threatening” incidents in the area.

“Eskom is unable to operate and conduct the necessary audits in the above area due to acts of intimidation and threats to Eskom employees. We recently had a situation where an Eskom employee was followed, threatened at gun point by community members who demanded that the employee reconnects supply that he disconnected due to tempering on the meter.

“The matter was reported to the South African Police Service and we are grateful that the employee escaped unharmed,” the power utility said.

Eskom explained that the decision to withdraw services was based on the need to protect the safety of its employees and its infrastructure and prevent costly electricity losses.

“Eskom has a responsibility of doing routine work in areas struggling with energy losses. The criminal behaviour that was directed to our employee, coupled with energy losses that continue to happen in the area have been viewed as a business risk.

“Eskom will be engaging with Nyandeni Local Municipality to find a lasting solution that will curb these seemingly increasing acts of intimidation and threats directed to Eskom employees,” the power utility said. – SAnews.gov.za