Eastridge and Lentegeur have been named among the top city hotspots for illegal copper trade. This, as the City of Cape Town’s Metal Theft Unit (MTU) continues to fight against metal and cable theft, more than a decade after its inception.In the last financial year (July 2018 – June 2019), the unit dubbed the ‘Copperheads’ arrested 90 suspects for cable and metal theft. A further 22 arrests were made in the first quarter of the current financial year.Items confiscated during the same 15-month period include:85kg of cast iron drain covers and frames;11 gully grids;11.1kg of telecommunication cable (66m); and288.5kg of copper cable (665m)Much of their efforts are centred around a list of the most prolific hotspots across the metropole. On the list are areas like Bishop Lavis, Bloekombos, Claremont, Eastridge, Elsies River, Harare – Khayelitsha, Kalksteenfontein, Kensington, Kraaifontein, Kuilsriver, Lentegeur, Maitland, Manenberg, Nyanga, Newlands, Ottery, Philippi East, Ravensmead, Rondebosch, Salt River and Stellenbosch Arterial.“The unit was initially established to curb the theft of City-infrastructure, but their scope has broadened as the metal and cable theft problem has grown, and very often the officers recover infrastructure belonging to state-owned enterprises as well as private sector companies,” says Mayco member for safety and security, JP Smith.“Two years ago, they also had their powers extended in terms of the Second Hand Goods Act, which allowed for the inspection of scrap metal dealers and bucket shops, and of course we have seen the introduction of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act which introduced the option of harsher sentences for cable thieves.”It’s not always smooth sailing though, Smith admits.“A key challenge is keeping track of cases once they’re handed over to the criminal justice system. So we are not able to say with certainty how many convictions there are as a result of the unit’s interventions. In addition, the unit receives numerous requests to escort and protect maintenance teams in high-risk areas, as they too have become targets. What is means is fewer planned operations for the Copperheads,” he says.Smith notes that cable theft is arguably one of the biggest threats to the local economy, safety and security and residents’ quality of life. Apart from electricity disruptions, it also affects the functioning of critical infrastructure like trains, internet access, closed-circuit television networks and even services at clinics and libraries.“With copper selling for around R80 a kilogram, it’s easy to see why it remains such a big problem. While there have been moves to curb these acts of sabotage, far more is needed if we are to make a meaningful difference. Our officers can only be in so many places at any given time, so we appeal to the community to be our eyes and ears, and to help bring those responsible to book,” says Smith. Anyone with information about cable or metal theft, or illegal scrap metal dealers are encouraged to report it to the City’s Public Emergency Communication Centre by calling 021 480 7700 or to their local police stations.