Cable theft ‘can’t be stamped out, can be managed’

2014-08-27 00:00

A LANDMARK seminar on the national cable theft crisis was held in Pretoria yesterday — and opened with a presentation of an investigative series on the subject carried out by The Witness.

Drawing together senior government officials, criminologists, diplomats and business leaders, the Institute for Security Studies hosted the event, titled “Cable Theft is Strangling SA’s Economy: Can We Escape the Noose?”

Hawks General Shadrack Sibiya revealed that the theft of cable infrastructure had been elevated to “priority status”, but one Department of Trade and Industry official admitted that any increase in the international copper price could see another boom in the epidemic.

The Witness has revealed that the co-ordinated effort to stop the problem — which costs the country more than R10 billion a year — had collapsed in the past two years, and that the only dedicated SAPS investigative unit was a tiny team in the Eastern Cape. It revealed that 159 major thefts occur each day in South Africa, but only 370 scrap dealer staff had been convicted for their complicity in the crimes in two years.

Meanwhile, panellist Leon van den Berg — a veteran guardian of Eskom’s power lines — told an audience of 80 the problem was so widespread it could not be stamped out in future, but merely “managed”.

Facilitator Johan Burger — a senior researcher for the ISS crime and justice division — told The Witness that most of the experts at the event were “notably pessimistic, saying that we are barely containing this problem”.

“But it was encouraging that agencies like the Hawks now recognise it as a priority problem, and that so many academics and police chose to attend,” he said.

Burger said the event was commissioned by the Tshwane Municipality, which has been badly affected by cable theft.

The conference opened with an ISS slide presentation of the first 20 stories of the major Witness series titled “Inside SA’s R10 billion cable racket”.

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