Weakness in justice system with cable theft - Nel

2014-10-06 17:28

Johannesburg - The criminal justice system does not deal effectively with cable theft and theft of public infrastructure, Deputy Co-operative Governance Minister Andries Nel said on Monday.

"There are weaknesses in our criminal justice system where these matters often get treated as petty crimes," he said during a discussion at an Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities conference in Midrand.

"We all talk colloquially about cable theft. In fact, the infrastructure that is affected goes far beyond cables. So I would rather talk about the theft of public infrastructure of a metallic nature."

He said that since the amendment of the Second Hand Goods Act, the number of arrests in relation to the theft of copper and other non-ferrous metals had increased.

"[However] what we haven't seen is a concomitant rise in convictions - one or two appropriate sentences. That is really the essence of the problem."

He said the problem of cable theft was recently evident through the theft of parts of power pylons and the theft of railway tracks.

"There is a huge impact on the broader provision of basic services, where electricity supply is interrupted, that can also lead to the interruption in the supply of water such as we have seen in Gauteng recently," Nel said.

The theft of non-ferrous metals could also impact social stability.

"Many of the protest actions that we see as service delivery protests, once you investigate more closely, often come back to interruptions of services which in turn are occasioned by the theft of public infrastructure."

He said government had established a working group, consisting of the ministers of co-operative governance, police, justice, state security and public enterprises, to deal with the problem.

"What we want to do in the short-term is ensure... that there is better information and intelligence shared among law enforcement, municipalities, and industry.

"We are looking at a range of proposals, both in operation and in terms of policy - looking at possible amendments to legislation."

Nel said there was a proposal to amend the Precious Metals Act to include copper, which would assist police and the prosecution and would mean heavier sentences.

There was also another proposal to make the theft of electricity a crime and another of placing the onus on someone who had a certain amount of copper or other metals in their possession to explain why.

‘Direction’ welcomed

Acting Johannesburg mayor and infrastructure MMC Matshidiso Mfikoe welcomed government's "direction" on the crime.

"It is being treated as a petty crime when in actual fact the effect on the economy is not necessarily spoken about," she said.

"We did it with Nyaope. Why can't we do the same here - with pronouncing as government that we are not going to tolerate any cables being stolen in the country?"

Colonel Gerhard Pretorius, who is in charge of the SA Police Service's team looking into the theft of non-ferrous metals, said the main problem preventing crimes like cable theft was the type of perpetrator.

"Our most common theft of copper cables has been done by opportunistic or petty thieves. It is very difficult to determine where they are going to strike next," he said.

"So we cannot plan for a person who tonight needs drugs and steals a copper cable. How do you plan for that?"

He said this was in contrast to syndicates who stole cables. The Hawks and the organised crime unit had systems in place to deal with syndicates.

"In terms of petty theft, we are not getting enough information in order to plan properly."

To combat this, a non-ferrous metals crime combating committee had been formed.

SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Neren Rau said in response to a question at the discussion that demand from the Chinese was driving up the price of copper.

"Diplomatically we cannot go to a different country and ask them to take responsibility for a problem we couldn't control," he said.

"We would also be entering the discussion with an accusatory tone, which we also don't want to do with a key trading partner."

  • criticallyhonest - 2014-10-06 17:40

    If this problem is going to be contained they will have to look up the value chain and penalise the people top down. The problem is that some "associates" and "benefactors" may be in the firing line.

      CliveK - 2014-10-06 17:53

      You are spot on Mr Honest. Until the cops start arresting and prosecuting the scumbags who trade in stolen goods, and the courts then impose meaningful prison sentences, things will only get worse. Surely the cops can get a handle on scrap metal dealers, or are there just too many fellow-cops in the senior ranks who are among the "associates" and "benefactors" you refer to? There appears to have been little success in stamping out this scourge, so one must assume that there is corruption in the higher levels of the SAPS and criminal justice system in general.

      Jonathan Woods - 2014-10-06 18:42

      As Jannie points out it goes to the very top of the pyramid. I am quite certain that what they defraud the state of "officially" is just the tip of the iceberg !

      lacrimosewolf - 2014-10-06 20:04

      Some dude textd/tweeted into a radio show today. Not verbatim but the gist was this: "I am a cable thief. I felt really bad after I stole the cables and saw all those people. But I am stealing from the govt. and I know in a few days everything will be OK. I made a few bucks. So I didn't feel so bad any more". It's very difficult not to launch into a tirade - and several paragraphs. There's zero comprehension of consequences - from people not ill enough to be in hospital but dependent on machines at home, to the very many trying to get to work on time before their pay is docked or outright fired. The loss to 'the govt' of productivity, life is a loss to us all. If we do not cure this defective thinking (and the behaviour that results), we will very soon not have a country. Treason, sabotage, murder. Those are the real consequences of scoring a few bucks.

      lacrimosewolf - 2014-10-06 22:56

      What does '94 or pre-'94 matter? We are here now. Without traffic lights, without water, without electricity, without jobs and without hope any of this will change for the better any time soon. With R16 Trillion debt. We have the finest polices, processes and procedures in the free world. We have the best Constitution of any Democracy alive today We still behave as if it is Someone Else's problem. Yet we can't even get through our days without trauma - happening or living in fear of. We're still serfs. We're constantly reminded how we owe plenty. We are still owned by our past with no plan for our future.

      Jacob Buys - 2014-10-07 04:41

      "benefactors" in uniform????

  • Maru Sebata - 2014-10-06 17:44

    No , think Nel is still diplomatic here, cable theft must be punishable by death, Cable theft is a denial of service at highest level of government, the same weapon used by terrorists, hospitals, sanitation infrastructure, rail lines, robots, communication infrastructure , industrial & manufacturing base etc is affected, it has potential to kill many people at the same,

      Terence P Bloem - 2014-10-06 18:17

      "Cable theft should be punishable by death" But then so should striking. An essential service - teachers, army, post, etc, does the same damage as cable theft - stealing from the wider community, causing damage, to satisfy the few.

      Mc Segal - 2014-10-06 18:42

      Death is not necessary. These criminals don't even get jail time..Even a light jail sentence would start providing a deterrant.

      Mc Segal - 2014-10-06 18:43

      Be a deterrant..sorry lousy English.

      Craig King - 2014-10-07 06:50

      Shortly Ebola will arrive in our country. This will stretch every service to the max. This infrastructure theft will cause people to die because our services will be compromised by these locusts.

  • Sthembiso Jali - 2014-10-06 17:47

    For a moment I thought it's our beloved Gerry Nel.

  • Richard Nieckau - 2014-10-06 17:59

    Our constitution and the law in general has been sided with the criminal since 1994. Most violent and disgraceful country in the world, yet we live on in desperate hope that good will prevail.

  • Johan Potgieter - 2014-10-06 18:05

    It is a lack of political will. The country is bankrupt and the government wants all to fail!

  • Robert Olivier - 2014-10-06 18:38

    Only ONE answer: YOU CAN NOT DO YOU JOB and you have to then rely on Response Companies to DO THE JOB YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO DO IN THE FIRST PLACE??????

  • Mc Segal - 2014-10-06 18:48

    Theft of Railway tracks?????One does not just rock up and scot off with a section of railway line...Heavy stuff.

      Mc Segal - 2014-10-06 18:49


  • Joan Mbele - 2014-10-06 19:35

    Our justice system!!!!! Its a shame.

  • mark.booysen - 2014-10-06 22:04

    What do you expect from a government that is just as weak.

  • Tom Robbins - 2014-10-06 22:07

    Hang the bastards for treason and sabotage. I'm bored with wishy washy liberal solutions. These thieving cockroaches are destroying our future.

  • Peter Mclaren - 2014-10-07 06:55

    Lets not beat about the bush here. Cable theft can be stopped by the government within 24 hrs. Firstly, stop used copper exports. Make it mandatory to sell used copper only to the bigger non ferrous smelters. Stop all scrap metal dealers from buying used copper from the street and set up government depots where scrap non ferrous metals can be sold. If you don't produce a bona fida source of the metal there is no sale. It is well known that if the salt of copper is better policed many dealers will close. It is more than fifty percent of their income.

  • John Stoltz - 2014-10-07 08:10

    Cable/metal theft should be made an offense against humanity, since it effects thousands of ordinary people! However, I think the ANC leadership are worried which comrades are involved, and that could result in some embarrassment!!

  • TheLimburger - 2014-10-07 08:28

    if we didn't have scrap yards buying these cables by the ton and shipping them out of the country via reputable clearing and forwarding companies via our ports we wouldn't be having this conversation. the indians, vietnamese,chinese and taiwanese smelters love us for our idiocracy.

  • Marc Anthony Webb - 2014-10-07 08:51

    The main factor is there is a thriving market for copper and hundreds if not thousands of scrap metal dealers in our country pretty much unchecked...Topping this we have civilians desperate for income as Zuma and his Muppet's have created no real sustainable employment with BBBEE and other reversed apartheid laws benefiting a handful.Finally our Cadre Deployed Police Force have little or no interest in doing their jobs properly and finally no real punishment for the guilty starting at the top!!!

  • Piet Grobler - 2014-10-07 09:35

    The focus should shift to the buyers of stolen copper. There are only hundreds of them as opposed to thousands of thieves.

  • Dirk Winterbach - 2014-10-19 08:01

    Perspective, how is it possible that diamond smugling is treated so seriously, this doesn't really effect anybody, cable theft effects us all and is nothing. Pull all the cops of diamonds onto cables .... We have all been brain washed ... What does diamond smugling even mean, is it theft, like in cable theft.?

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