Copper theft still climbing

Copper theft continues to escalate, with the value of copper stolen in February estimated at R22,8 million according to a statement by the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci).

The loss is 4,1% higher than the R21,9 million recorded in January, and the fifth consecutive month that Sacci’s Copper Theft Barometer has registered a loss greater than R20 million. Global demand for copper, driven by China’s continued investment in housing and infrastructure, was expected to rise by 3,1% this year. China’s demand constitutes 40% of the global total.

If current trends persisted, copper theft looked likely to rise slightly in 2012 said the Sacci statement. Koos Marais, Kwanalu security spokesman, said copper cable theft had a severe effect on agriculture, as it took out telephone lines, irrigation and pump equipment. “We believe most stolen copper is shipped out to China. Until the government bans the export of copper materials it will not stop,” said Marais.

Trade in stolen goods has flourished in a vacuum of inadequate legislation and enforcement, and a thriving black market for aluminium, car parts, electronic goods, copper cabling and jewellery has developed. Sacci said stronger enforcement of illegal activities could cut out a vital conduit for organised syndicates.

“Last year there were 72 533 reported incidents of copper cable theft and 10 736 arrests were made,” said Sacci’s statement, adding that sentences passed on guilty offenders have recently become harsher. Dianne Kohler-Barnard, DA MP and spokesperson on police, expressed anger at the slow implementation of the Second Hand Goods Act, passed in 2009. The act replaces the outdated Second Hand Goods Act of 1955, and covers the activities of large metal recyclers.

It also specifically addresses cable theft and its effect on infrastructure in South Africa. “I am furious. We passed the Second Hand Goods Act in February 2009. It was signed off by the president. It has never been implemented because they didn’t bother to draw up regulations for the courts,” said Kohler-Barnard.

The regulation of suspicious transactions, and the criminalisation of the possession, acquisition and disposal of controlled metal cable such as copper cable have been regulated by the police. They are currently finalising the outstanding Regulation for Dealers and Recyclers.

The training of designated second-hand goods police officers will be conducted after the promulgation of these regulations.
Police spokesperson Zweli Mnisi said training would be national and ongoing. “We have started training and capacitating officers and detectives so that when we make arrests, we have a higher conviction rate. We don’t yet have the numbers of how many officers have been trained but the process has commenced.”