The shocking, deadly truth about electrocutions and young men
Illegal wiring and cable theft account for about half of their deaths in Cape Town, but it may be much higher
Young men in Cape Town are killing themselves either to get electricity or to steal the cables that provide it.
A new study of deaths by electrocution – only the second of its kind in SA – says illegal wiring and cable theft accounted for about half of the fatalities analysed.
More than half of the autopsies conducted at Tygerberg Forensic Pathology Services between 2008 and 2012 involved people from Khayelitsha.
Shauneen von Caues, who studied 39 electrocutions while studying medicine at Stellenbosch University, said they accounted for only one in 200 unnatural deaths investigated at Tygerberg, but there was still a need for more awareness, particularly among young people.
Electrocutions were most common among men aged 21-35. The youngest victim in the five years Von Caues looked at was an eight-month-old who touched an open wire at her home. Only seven of the victims were female.
Reporting her findings in the SA Medical Journal, Von Caues said five of the deaths she studied were due to a low-voltage (less than 1,000 volts) electric shock from an alleged illegal connection. Three were blamed on low-voltage cable theft.
Eight cases involved high voltages from cable thefts and an illegal connection, and Von Caues said: “A definite association between electrocution and illegal wiring could neither be confirmed nor rejected in 10 cases. Sixty percent of these ‘unknown’ cases also occurred in Khayelitsha.
“It could be argued that the few known cases associated with illegal wiring are not a true reflection of the effect illegal wiring may have on electrocution deaths. The proportion of deaths due to illegal electrical connections may in fact be much greater.
“The relationship between electrocution-related mortality and crime cannot be ignored.”
Only two of the 39 deaths were work-related but five resulted from victims trying to fix electrical equipment.
Most of the injuries found on electrocution victims were burns and abrasions. But Von Caues, who now works at Tonga Hospital in Mpumalanga, said autopsy reports were not consistent in describing injuries, making analysis difficult.
“Various grading systems for the depth and extent of burn wounds already exist in clinical medicine. A suggestion would be to implement [them] in the field of forensic medicine as well.”