South Africa’s cable theft disaster — here’s how to stop it

South Africa needs to prohibit the trade of scrap for cash to curb copper cable theft in the country, says Metal Recyclers Association trade adviser Donald Mackay.

He also said specialised training should be provided for members of the police force to help them identify stolen copper and problematic scrap yards.

“There are a couple of low hanging fruit that we should immediately go after that could make a big difference quite quickly,” Mackay said in an interview with 702.

“One of them is to prohibit the trade in scrap for cash. The moment you trade anything for cash, traceability becomes a challenge.”

“That’s something that’s relatively easy to do quite quickly,” he added.

He also explained that South Africa currently doesn’t have a specialised police force to tackle the problem. Non-specialists don’t always understand the difference between legitimately traded metals and stolen goods.

As a result, the stolen goods enter the regular trading stream.

“There used to be specialised people within the police. For example, in Cape Town, the metro police had “copper heads”, which were a specialised team looking at copper theft particularly,”

“The South African police, in fact, had an arrangement to have people specially trained to identify stolen scrap and taught how to inspect a yard to identify problematic dealers.”

Mackay explained that the South African Police Service no longer seems to do this, adding that the Metal Recyclers Association is reinitiating conversations with the police to get it back on track.

It would also be necessary for police to investigate foundries, as a significant proportion 0f stolen copper ends up in melted form.

“If we have a look at where the stolen copper ends up, we do see, for example, that some of it ends up in some kind of melted form before it is exported,” Mackay said.

“So presumably, a significant portion of the stolen copper is ending up at local foundries who are then converting the stolen copper into a melted form.”

This makes it much harder to trace, and Mackay said it could then be resold, exported, or used for illegal electricity connections.

“There is a second-hand goods act which regulates what you are meant to do, but of course, this is not well enforced,” he said.

Copper cable thieves have become more brazen. Two dangerous incidents of theft and attempted theft occurred in Soweto towards the end of April.

In the first, which happened in Nancefield, thieves ripped 180m of copper cabling out of the ground — worth around R60,000 — in broad daylight.

The other incident ended in a shootout after community members intervened to protect the infrastructure from cable thieves in Eldorado Park.


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South Africa’s cable theft disaster — here’s how to stop it