5 September, 2011
Statement issued by Warwick Chapman, DA Spokesperson Housing and Infrastructure
Answers provided at today’s full council meeting reveal that 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 the losses to consumers caused by the resulting outage or power surge.
It is estimated that copper theft costs our economy R10 billion per year, hampering economic growth, productivity and job creation.
In a press statement released by the municipality in May this year, spokesperson Thabo Mofokeng said, “…the theft of cables, electrical conductors and transformers from the eThekwini Electricity network has resulted in significant losses to the Municipality. This not only places a burden on the City’s financial resources but also on its valuable customers that are severely inconvenienced by the supply interruptions arising out of the theft.”
Mr Mofokeng goes on to state that, “there are approximately 130 registered scrap metal dealers and 300 “bucket shop” type dealers in the eThekwini region. This poses enormous pressure on authorities in terms of regular compliance monitoring.”
This growing cable-theft trend threatens the very infrastructure of the City, causing serious damage to electrical substations and necessitating repairs running into millions of rand.
In the 2007/8 financial year cable theft losses for eThekwini were reported by the then Minister for Local Government to be R36-million. In the City of Cape Town over the same period, cable theft losses were recoprted at R496 800. Just a year earlier, in the 2006/7 financial year, cable theft losses in the City of Cape Town were recorded at R22-million.
This represents a 44-fold decrease in losses for the City of Cape Town from one financial year to the next.
What could possible 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. During that financial year, Cape Town 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 in the City
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’s success rate speaks for itself:
• Between 200 and 300 people were arrested per year since the Copperheads’ inception.
• On average, about 50 council workers were arrested a year, indicating that in some instances, copper theft from municipal property is an inside job.
• In 2007, when the Copperheads were established, R22 million worth of copper and other metals were stolen. In 2009, that number had fallen to only R500 000.
• 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.
Answers provided today about eThekwini’s own attempt to combat cable theft indicate that the unit established in 2009 has a R29m budget, six staff and has been unable to attract the investigators required to fill the vacant posts in the unit.
Further answers confirmed that there have been no convictions of scrap metal dealers in eThekwini since the unit was established.
National government also has a crucial role to play in combating copper theft. At national level, the DA is putting forward five key proposals to stop copper theft:
• Implement the Second Hand Goods Law of 2009: This law was passed in 2009 and creates a solid framework for law enforcement to pursue and persecute copper thieves. The law has still not been implemented. Once implemented, it will make it much easier to police copper theft.
• Making copper theft a priority crime at the SAPS: This will secure more resources and more experienced personnel for the fight against copper theft, as well as placing more responsibility on SAPS to investigate and resolve copper theft cases.
• Giving copper theft its own crime code at the SAPS: Presently, the SAPS crime database records copper theft in the category “other crimes”. This means that there are no reliable statistics of the incidence of copper theft, hampering the development of a sophisticated strategy to combat copper theft. We therefore propose that copper theft be given its own crime code so that it can be recorded separately.
• Setting copper theft reduction targets at parastatals: The Public Enterprises Minister should set targets to reduce copper theft at each major parastatal, accompanied by a comprehensive strategic plan to meet these targets.
• Close cooperation with industry experts: There exists a reservoir of goodwill from security and copper theft experts to help municipalities and parastatals to improve their security operations. This knowledge should be used more effectively and that starts by taking the problem more seriously and being open to input from outside experts.
We should not forget that copper theft has a direct effect on the lives of our people. Copper stolen from electricity cables disconnects our communities, especially poorer communities. The City then has to spend additional resources replacing infrastructure, money which could be spent rolling out even more services to the poor.
Our experience in Cape Town shows us that a metro police service, when properly trained and led by the right people and given the tools to do its job, can act as a powerful tool in the fight against crime.
In my opinion, even if it costs us R30million per year to prevent R30million of cable theft, the measures are still worthwhile as they reduce loss of productivity and costly damage to equipment caused by the outages and surges which result from cable theft. Cable theft can be combated by this municipality, all we need is the political will to do it properly.
Please report suspicious activities relating to cable theft to 031 311 9611.
083 7797 094