Cable theft is economic sabotage and must be confronted head-on

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Consistent cable theft continues to plunge the Goldfields into darkness, with residents of Bronville and Odendaalsrus suffering extensive discomfort due to prolonged blackouts.
Consistent cable theft continues to plunge the Goldfields into darkness, with residents of Bronville and Odendaalsrus suffering extensive discomfort due to prolonged blackouts.
Stock Photo


Cable and copper theft has become so commonplace that it barely registers as a blip on the media radar. But not a single week goes by without the lives of ordinary people being disrupted by cable theft in our country.

Complacency in the media and among communities, and the lackadaisical approach to protecting our infrastructure by government and municipal entities, has resulted in cable and copper theft becoming a multinational criminal endeavour. What was once a petty criminal act committed on an individual level has burgeoned into a lucrative international organised crime enterprise.

South Africa is an easy target for the asset stripping of copper infrastructure on an industrial scale. 

Between January and May 2021, 66 copper-laden vehicles were robbed, with 60% of the hijackings taking place in the country.

There were similar incidents in Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This shows how brazen and strong this criminal network has become in this country in particular, and on the African continent in general.

READ: Cable thieves now armed with AK-47s

The organised criminal network robs trucks and melts down copper to remove serial numbers and other identifying markings then resells it locally or transfers it by trucks to be sold in other nations.

The impact on the poorest among us is immeasurable, in terms of lost economic opportunities and compromised community safety.

The targeted sectors of the economy in South Africa includes those that are key to the economic upliftment of the masses, particularly rail, telecommunication and electricity. The calamity is that the essential services of Eskom, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), Telkom and Transnet are interrupted while the plunder is exported to other developing nations.

READ: Editorial | Cable theft: Fight fire with fire

The theft of cables frequently leaves impacted communities without power for days or even weeks. For instance, street lights in major working-class townships in the Western Cape are not working as a result of this criminality, our people live in the dark. Further, cable theft also disrupts internet access and phone calls.

The economy is suffering astronomical financial loss.

Eskom alone loses approximately R7 billion a year; Prasa lost about R364 million in Gauteng and the Western Cape in the year 2019; and Transnet lost about R3.9 billion from 2019 to 2022.

The SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry contends that cable theft costs South Africa’s economy between R5 billion and R7 billion annually. With these staggering financial figures and the targeted sectors of our economy, it is compelling to characterise cable theft as economic sabotage.

Although its impact on the overall economic output and employment has not been quantified, it does not take a genius to understand the damaging effects of interruptions on production, investment and employment security.

READ: ‘Cable thieves have their own school’

It is therefore clear that the scrap metal industry is in cahoots with the cable and copper syndicates, given the rate of theft and destruction of infrastructure that is ravaging critical sectors of South Africa’s economy. That is why it’s understandable that some quarters of our society have called for scrap trading to be banned in our country.

Then the questions arise: 

What is to be done because it is not enough to describe and lament about the impact of this economic sabotage, cable and copper theft? Is the call for the ban on scrap justified, given its impact?

President Cyril Ramaphosa used his Freedom Day address to condemn cable theft. There are reports of similar concerns in Zimbabwe too. But Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta acted decisively by closing down the scrap industry with immediate effect.

The Scaw Metals Group believes that the state has no capacity to stop criminality in the sector, therefore the best solution is a total ban on scrap. However, others such as the Metal Recyclers Association beg to differ. Therefore there must be an open debate on this question as a basis to save South Africa’s economy from further paralysis.

What is clear is that those involved in these criminal activities are not just the lumpen working-class people, they are big fishes, and this is the nexus of many forces.

READ: Cable thieves add to Gloria Mine’s woes

Finally, it is obvious that South Africa’s intelligence service has been asleep at the wheel on this matter. The number one priority for the intelligence services is to protect South Africa, its people and its infrastructure from attacks. This continued copper theft is nothing less than a daily assault on our country. The wholesale stripping of our critical copper infrastructure by gangs of local and international criminals has reached endemic proportions. Things are well past the point of requiring urgent and coordinated intervention by the security cluster. Therefore patriots must rise and confront this criminal network before its tentacles entangle all sectors of our economy.

Communities, authorities, our legislature and our executive need to stop our country’s infrastructure being stolen out from under our noses, and act in concert – and with urgency – to stop these saboteurs from literally scrapping our future prosperity as a nation.

Ngqentsu is the SACP’s provincial secretary in the Western Cape


Delivering the 

news you need

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Latest issue
Latest issue
All the news from City Press in PDF form.
Read now
Voting Booth
Stats SA's recent consumer price index data this week indicated the rise in food prices was the largest in 14 years. Economists say continued load shedding also adds to the rise in the cost of food production. How are you feeding your family during this tough time?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
I have a food garden
7% - 56 votes
I rely on sales
21% - 171 votes
I buy necessities
72% - 572 votes