Gordhan Reveals The Effect Of Copper Theft On South Africa’s Infrastructure

One prominent case that sheds light on the extent of the problem involves scrap metal dealer Malome Matsetela. Matsetela was recently sentenced to 18 years in prison for his involvement in an illicit copper syndicate.

Gordhan Reveals The Effect Of Copper Theft On South Africa's Infrastructure - The Times Post
Gordhan Reveals The Effect Of Copper Theft On South Africa's Infrastructure.

Copper theft has become a widespread crisis in South Africa, with devastating consequences for the country’s critical infrastructure. Recent revelations by Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan indicate that a staggering 4,633km of copper cable has been stolen between the 2020 financial year and October 2023.

This alarming statistic highlights the urgent need to address this issue and protect vital sectors such as power generation, telecommunications, transportation, and mining.

One prominent case that sheds light on the extent of the problem involves scrap metal dealer Malome Matsetela. Matsetela was recently sentenced to 18 years in prison for his involvement in an illicit copper syndicate.

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This was not his first encounter with the law, as he had previously been convicted and sentenced for similar offenses. Evidence presented during the trial revealed that Matsetela’s network operated across the country, with multiple copper theft syndicates selling their stolen copper to him.

The syndicate used deceptive tactics, such as posing as road maintenance crews, to target infrastructure owned by Telkom, Eskom, and Transnet. The stolen copper was eventually sold to SA Metal Group in Johannesburg.

Another case that highlights the severity of the issue involves Group Wreck, one of the largest metal recyclers in the Durban area. The owner, Angelo Solimene, was caught exporting mixed copper and brass while falsely declaring it as unrefined copper.

Despite the magnitude of the offense, Solimene received a relatively trivial fine and was allowed to continue operating with certain conditions. This lenient approach to sentencing is a recurring theme in many copper theft cases, allowing culprits to walk away with minimal consequences.

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC) recently published a report titled “South Africa’s Illicit Copper Economy,” authored by Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane. The report provides alarming statistics on the scale of the problem and its impact on critical national infrastructure.

Criminal elements strip copper from various sources, including roads, homes, construction sites, and mines, severely affecting the operations of state-owned entities and municipalities.

The economic impact of copper theft is significant. Eskom, South Africa’s primary electricity supplier, estimates that copper theft costs between R5-7 billion annually, not including the additional cost of replacing stolen cables.

This not only results in financial losses but also disrupts power supply to customers. Transnet, the country’s rail, port, and pipeline company, reported a nearly eight-fold increase in stolen cable length over five years, with 1,121km stolen in the 2023 financial year alone.

Telkom, City Power in Johannesburg, and eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal have also experienced significant losses due to copper theft, resulting in service disruptions and financial burdens.

The mining sector is not immune to this crisis either. Thieves brazenly strip copper from power cables in underground mining tunnels, causing substantial losses for mining companies.

Sibanye-Stillwater, one of the largest mining companies in South Africa, reported numerous incidents of cable theft, resulting in a staggering R1 billion in lost production in 2022 alone.

The impact of copper theft extends beyond financial losses. Critical facilities such as hospitals have been severely affected, with disruptions to operating theaters, intensive care units, and other vital services. The theft of copper cables compromises the functionality of these facilities and puts lives at risk.

Addressing the copper theft crisis requires a multi-faceted approach. Strengthening law enforcement efforts, increasing penalties for offenders, and implementing stricter regulations for scrap metal dealers are crucial steps.

Collaboration between government agencies, state-owned entities, and the private sector is essential to effectively combat this problem. Investing in advanced security measures, such as surveillance cameras and alarm systems, can act as deterrents and aid in the identification of offenders.

Furthermore, public awareness campaigns can educate communities about the negative consequences of copper theft and encourage the reporting of suspicious activities. Engaging with the scrap metal industry to promote responsible practices and discourage the purchase of stolen copper is also vital.

South Africa’s copper theft crisis poses a significant threat to critical infrastructure and the economy as a whole. Decisive action must be taken to protect valuable assets, ensure the uninterrupted provision of essential services, and hold offenders accountable for their actions. Only through a concerted effort can South Africa effectively address this crisis and safeguard its future.

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