Scrap metal dealer turns table on cable thieves

2014-05-21 15:54
Kyle Stephens stands over stolen scrap metal brought in by a suspected cable theft gang. (Jonathan Burton, The Witness)

Kyle Stephens stands over stolen scrap metal brought in by a suspected cable theft gang. (Jonathan Burton, The Witness)

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Mlondi Radebe and Nalini Naidoo, The Witness

Pietermaritzburg - A major scrap metal dealer, caught out in a raid just last week, made amends with police on Tuesday by arranging a sting on a cable theft gang in their own yard.

Three suspects were arrested on Tuesday morning in a trap set up by Wayne’s Scrap Metal, in Greyling Street, Pietermaritzburg, the SAPS crime intelligence unit and the city’s electricity theft task team.

Copper cable belonging to Eskom, worth about R25 000, was seized in the raid.

A manager at the scrap yard, Brett Hancocks, told The Witness the dealership had been contacted by one of the suspects the previous day, proposing a sale of copper.

He said the men - from the Ladysmith area - were asked to fax through paperwork that included details of the ownership of their company. When the fax was received, “alarm bells” went off with Wayne’s managers that the sellers could be part of a cable theft syndicate.

Hancocks said the company alerted police, and invited the suspects to call in on Tuesday after hatching a joint plan. The sellers duly arrived at around 09:00 and were off-loading 500kg of copper when detectives pounced, arresting three men.

Hancocks said the company was determined to help police to root out “criminality” in the industry.

Among the undercover agents swarming the yard, waiting for the culprits to turn up, was the head of Msunduzi’s electricity theft task team, Mzwakhe Mdakane.

More vigilant

In an interview, Mdakane said he was struck by the “irony” that, a week earlier, he had stood in the same yard, removing over a ton of allegedly stolen underground cables belonging to the municipality. He said the owners of Wayne’s had also contacted him to let him know what was about to happen.

“This is the effect of the work of the task team,” Mdakane said.

“Established scrap dealers are becoming more vigilant because they don’t want their names to be tarnished. Besides the Msunduzi team there were investigators present from Telkom, Transnet and Eskom.

“We were all asked to identify the copper. It turned out to be material owned by Eskom.”

However, Mdakane said a major challenge remained in stopping illegal copper sales at illegal backdoor operators. He said surveillance and undercover operations would be used to crack the “bucket shop” outlets for cable thieves.

For Mdakane, the unit’s greatest success was a dramatic drop in illegal electricity connections.

Municipal staff involved

Investigations had revealed that municipal staff were involved in carrying out the illegal connections.

Since there had been some arrests of municipal employees, the team had recorded a trend in which thefts were increasingly “less professional”.

“When we first went out we were struck by how professional the jobs were. There were also long lengths of cables used. In one instance, there was about 500 metres of cables used,” Mdakane said.

According to Mdakane, a string of recent arrests had caused professional thieves to “go to ground” - but that less skilled gangs had generated more dangerous incidents.

Earlier this month, Msunduzi Mayor Chris Ndlela revealed that eight out of a total of 15 criminal cases opened by the task team involved municipal employees.

Police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane said, “Three suspects aged between 18 and 32 were arrested for possession of copper cables suspected to be stolen. They will appear in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court soon.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  cable theft  |  crime
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