Government looks at ways to act as copper-cable theft increases

2010-06-28 00:00

A FORTNIGHT ago, after experiencing a second power outage in two weeks, Sealake Industries, which employs more than 400 people, threatened to pull out of Pietermaritzburg.

Factory technical manager Ahmed Khan said that the company had lost more than R3 million in production costs after a three-day power outage recently. Workers expressed concern that nonproduction of the factory could result in a reduction in their wages.

Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Ntobeko Ngcobo said that the electricity outage was due to copper- cable theft and cable damage in the area.

The minister of public enterprises Barbara Hogan was recently quoted as saying that copper may be legally determined as a precious metal in the Precious Metals Act, and that this will hinder copper-cable theft by making it harder for thieves to trade in copper. It was also reported that there would be difficulties in declaring the metal as precious.

A spokesperson from Multi Metals and Machinery CC in the city said that there is not much point in declaring copper as precious.

“The main problem is that licences to trade are very easy to obtain.”

Responding to a query from The Witness, an Eskom spokesperson confirmed that new legislation in the form of a revised Second-hand Goods Act (which regulates the scrap industry) has been promulgated and is in the process of being implemented. This will ensure that cable theft criminals and syndicates will be prosecuted accordingly.

Hogan said that other measures undertaken to tackle cable theft include converting the copper cable to tiger wire (which does not have a high resale value) and increasing security in cable-theft hotspots. Mintek’s general manager for business development Roger Paul explained that coating the cables with aluminium would deter thieves by making it harder to strip the cables, as is the current practice.

Andrew Layman, CEO of Pietermaritzburg’s Chamber of Business, said that there are huge cost factors involved in coating the cables with aluminium­ and in converting the cables­ to tiger wire because the cables would need to be relaid and also because the price of aluminium is high. Eskom, however, found that aggressive policing of the problem has resulted in a decrease in cable theft. Layman said that policing the cables all the time is costly and should not be necessary.

“Businesses are affected badly because of cable theft, often resulting in a loss of service. Cables that are stolen take a long time to replace.”

Companies that are most affected by cable theft are Eskom, Telkom and Transnet. National spokesperson for Transnet Mick Asefovitz said that overhead cable theft has resulted in disruption of the system, train delays, huge financial losses and even death.

Transnet spokesperson Sandile Simelane said that an average of 10 trains have been cancelled daily due to copper-cable theft. The cost of replacing cables is more than R42 million a year. This amount excludes the cost of consequential losses. He said that overhead cable theft affects South Africa as a whole, with delays in the delivering of consignments to international destinations and injuring the country’s reputation, perhaps leading to international markets switching to more reliable and efficient suppliers.

There are currently awareness initiatives­ that are aimed at relevant government departments — the South African Police Force and the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Prosecuting Authority­ — as well as the public in attempts to rectify the problem of cable­ theft.

Multi Metals and Machinery CC spokesperson said that there are ways to determine whether the copper cables have been stolen. However it is not easy. Telkom, Eskom and Transnet have supplied samples of the cables to scrap metal traders to help them determine which cables have been stolen.

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