Cable theft is strangling SA's economy: can we escape the noose?


Cable theft costs South Africa approximately R5 billion a year, according to an announcement made by former Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, in November 2013. This may be a very conservative estimate, as cable theft has become a national crisis with serious implications for the country’s economy and security. It disrupts and delays the delivery of essential services such as health, communication and transport. Cable theft interrupts the flow of traffic on the country’s roads, the rail system and even air travel, resulting in increasing levels of public frustration and financial losses to businesses.

This seminar brought together 65 representatives of government and business to discuss the extent of the problem, its implications for South Africa, and what is being done to combat it.

The seminar was chaired by Dr Johan Burger, a senior researcher in the Governance, Crime and Justice division at the ISS. The speakers were:

Pietman Roos elaborated on the copper theft barometer run by SACCI and why it’s important to monitor cable theft. SACCI represents some 17 000 companies, more than 70 large corporates, 25 sector associations and 50 local chambers. These all have a direct financial interest in the incidence of copper cable theft and in solutions given the negative impact of the crime on their operations. SACCI believes that copper theft is driven by the cyclical price of copper, by general crime levels, and by policing efficacy.

Leon van den Berg explained that copper theft is a major challenge facing the Eskom network that consists of 395 419 km of overhead lines, 11 018 km of underground cable and 351 297 installed transformers. Eskom has developed a ‘network equipment crime strategy’that seeks to promote cooperation across the industry, regional cooperation in SADC as well as technology solutions. The strategy targets organised criminal groups and low-level thieves.

Director Trish Armstrong spoke on cable theft in the Tshwane Municipal Area. Local government is particularly affected by copper cable theft from electricity substations. The impact on social and economic activities of the City as well as the community at large can be severe. A Special Projects Team was created in the Tshwane Metro Police Department, and is tasked with bringing down levels of cable theft in Tshwane.

Major General Sibiya made it clear that the DPCI’s interest in cable theft is primarily focused on the role of organised crime syndicates. He explained the complex approach to organised crime utilised by the DPCI and concluded with an overview of some of the unit’s successes.

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