The 14?km cable heist kingpin

2014-05-30 00:00

DAN Manual ordered the theft of over 14 kilometres of Eskom and Transnet power lines, causing 20 separate power outages and 11 railway shutdowns.

His highly skilled “cutter”, Tsokolo Motsebetse, and a small crew plundered pylon lines in the Welkom area for four years, taking copper with a street value of around R500 000 and a cost to the economy of tens of million of rands.

Manual, a 50-year-old resident of Virginia in the Free State, is one of dozens of copper heist kingpins to have been arrested in the past five years.

But, in August last year, he became one of only a handful of syndicate leaders to have been convicted and sentenced to serious jail time. Manual and Motsebetse were both sentenced to 10 years.

Former prosecutor Orpa Wessels says magistrates in the Free State have led the country’s jurists both in recognising the impact of what was once seen as petty theft and understanding the new legislation on second-hand goods.

“Where a guy in North West will get a suspended sentence, a thief just over the border into the Free State will get an eight-year sentence for the same offence,” she says.

“There is a very good understanding of the law and of the incredible economic impact of this crime. I discovered that Transnet is fined up to R1 million for every hour that its freight deliveries arrive late at the harbour, mostly owing to these thieves. But its also an incentive for investigators and prosecutors to work hard in the Free State, because you can really make a difference.”

In 2012, a Free State magistrate noted that copper theft was “stealing the country of South Africa from right under [South Africans]”, in issuing 15- and 20-year sentences to four thieves.

Heavy sentences began in 2005, when a Kroonstad magistrate sentenced 24 syndicate members to a total of 480 years in jail.

But the story of the leader of that 2005 gang, Paulos Moyana, who went on trial yet again this month, suggests the rewards of copper theft are so great that neither 10-year sentences nor deportation are any deterrent.

The 55-year-old came to South Africa illegally, having grown up in the village of Manyisa in rural Mozambique, and learned electrician-level skills with live cable.

A “pioneer” of big cable theft in South Africa — before the copper price boom in 2006 — Moyana assembled a skilled team of fellow expatriates to tackle the heavy voltage overhead lines powering Transnet’s freight trains.

He sold copper by the ton to exporters in Gauteng and was arrested near Pole 19-04 on Transnet’s Kroonstad line in early 2005.

He was released from prison seven years later in July 2012. According to a Section 212 affidavit by a Home Affairs official, Moyana was deported to Mozambique on July 7, 2012. The official stated that he possessed no passport.

Three weeks later — on August 6, 2012 — a section of Transnet cable was stolen from the same Kroonstad line.

According to a security report by Transnet’s contracted intelligence company, CPI, the cellphone traced to the scene belonged to Moyana. Prosecutors say his cellphone was there, again, when two spans were stolen in Koppies on August 31, and again when three spans were taken nearby on September 12.

And Moyana himself was allegedly found there in the flesh two days later, when spans were swiped in Kroonstad, and stunned CPI investigators who arrested him at the same Pole 19-04 on the Kroonstad line.

Wessels confirmed: “He was out for a few weeks and re-arrested on the exact same place where he was originally arrested for the first syndicate.”

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