Asset losses as a result of cable theft in eThekwini over the past five years amount to nearly R100m. This figure does not take into account losses to consumers caused by the resulting outage or power surge.
In the 2006/7 financial year, cable theft losses in Cape Town were recorded at R22-million. Just a year later losses had been reduced to R496 800, representing a 44-fold decrease from one financial year to the next.
What could possibly explain such a dramatic decline in just one year? The answer is simply that the Cape Town council took a policy decision not to tolerate cable theft any longer and to invest in combating the crime. The council established the Metals Theft Unit or “Copperheads” as a specialised unit of the Cape Town Metro Police to combat the theft of copper and other metals.
The 12-person unit, through tip-offs from the public, as well as proactive intelligence-gathering, was mandated to find, catch and arrest copper thieves. The unit arrests between 200 and 300 per year of which about 50 are council workers. Theft of brass water meters was reduced from 1700 per month in 2007, to 10 per month in 2009.
There is no reason why this success cannot be replicated in eThekwini and other metros. eThekwini’s own attempt to combat cable theft is a unit established in 2009 with a R29m budget and six posts. It has been unable to attract the investigators required to fill the vacant posts in the unit. There have been no convictions of scrap metal dealers in eThekwini since the unit was established.
At a National level, the Second Hand Goods Law which was passed in 2009 has not yet been implemented by SAPS. It creates a solid framework for law enforcement to pursue and prosecute copper thieves and must urgently be implemented.
Copper theft has a direct impact on the lives of our people, and always hits poorer communities hardest. eThekwini then has to spend additional resources replacing infrastructure instead of rolling out more services to the poor.
In my opinion, even if it costs us R30m per year to prevent R30m of cable theft, the measures are worthwhile as they reduce loss of productivity and costly damage to consumer equipment.
Cllr WB Chapman