Cable theft and the plight of the municipality

March 11th, 2015, Published in Articles: Vector

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Tubatsi Moloi

The monthly cost to South Africa of copper cable theft rose to R13,2-million in October 2014, 43% higher than in the previous year, according to new South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) statistics. This was the fifth month-on-month increase and was up from R12-million in August and R13-million in September last year.

In total, the cost of copper theft to the economy is estimated at a staggering R5-billion a year and the October increase is a worrying signal that copper theft may be on the increase in the short-to-medium term.

No sector in the country is immune to cable theft. It occurs in the townships and suburbs, as well as in the commercial, industrial and agricultural sectors. The energy and revenue losses suffered by municipalities and Eskom due to cable theft are, however, more than double the losses suffered in the residential sector.

To make matters worse, there have been cases where municipal employees and contractors are part of the problem and collude with end-users to provide them with illegal electricity where copper theft happens.

Municipalities also have to contend the SAPS’ insistence that the security service providers employed by the municipalities not be allowed to open cases on the municipalities’ behalf, but by the municipalities themselves.

Reporting cable theft is time consuming and the SAPS personnel show no urgency in opening cases. Members of the public are served first and the first-come-first served principle doesn’t apply to municipal officials. This means municipal security personnel are kept busy at the police station for up to a day at a time and cannot continue with their work.

Cable theft is still not classified as a priority crime. Cases of attempted theft are normally not accepted by the SAPS even though the suspects are arrested red-handed, in possession of all the tools necessary to commit the crime.

At some police stations, personnel even refuse to open cable theft cases and the municipal teams have to return to open a case later, when another shift is on duty. Municipalities also don’t have dedicated members to attend cable theft forums and the result is minimal interaction with the SAPS.

Added to all of this are the fact that copper theft syndicates habitually relocate their activities from one town to another and a shortage of communication regarding investigations between towns.

On the constructive side, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) is now officially part of the National Non-Ferrous Metals Crime Combating Committee (NFMCCC), chaired by the SAPS Visible Poling Unit. SALGA’s role will be to represent and advocate municipal issues on cable theft related matters in a number of ways.

It will champion a national campaign through the political offices of executive mayors, mayors and speakers and by identifying “cable theft campaign ambassadors” at local level to encourage communities to rally against and report cable theft.

SALGA will also work towards mobilising communities and relevant stakeholders against cable theft and unlawful copper dealers through roadshows throughout the municipal districts. The association proposes a well-resourced national cable theft technical response team cascaded to both provincial and district level.

The cable theft campaign ambassadors are to encourage communities to pay for electricity and to rally against and report electricity theft. They will work towards the upscaling of law enforcement, increased policing efforts and vigilance among communities and other stakeholders of cable theft and unlawful copper dealers.

Cable theft is everybody’s problem, a scourge that each and every role player in industry must address. It is critical that every stakeholder in the industry join forces, including electricity distributors, electrical contractors, scrap-yard dealers and the community.

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