Although recent statistics on the arrest and conviction of metal and cable theft suspects create room for optimism, the war is far from over.
Riana Scott, head of marketing and communication at Metrorail Western Cape, says given the lack of illegal scrap yards being closed, the continued flouting of the Second Hand Goods Act and the prevailing socio-economic climate which produces new criminals as soon as regular offenders are arrested – these type of crimes are highly likely to continue.
“Depending on the area, the extent and the nature of the theft, it can lead to delays, cancellations and temporary suspension of train services in sections of the network affected by vandalism or theft,” Scott says.
Cable theft can also lead to electricity disruptions and affects the functioning of critical infrastructure like internet access, closed-circuit television networks and services at clinics and libraries.
Scott explains the Rail Enforcement unit, police and Metrorail Protection Services (MPS) conduct both autonomous and joint operations to combat crime.
“Each entity keeps its own statistics of autonomous operations and joint successes are publicised as such,” Scott says.
Metrorail’s statistics are regional and not captured per station given the extensive rail network and number of trains. MPS made 137 arrests in the period from September 2018 to August this year.
In March last year, additional human resources (armed guards) and technology (surveillance and forensic capability) was introduced. Since then 431 arrests have been made, 59 convictions and 42 cases finalised.
The total number of years’ jail sentences imposed under the Criminal Matters Amendment Act are 373 years, five months and ten days.
The City of Cape Town’s Metal Theft Unit (MTU) arrested 90 suspects for cable and metal theft in the past financial year (July 2018 – June 2019).
A further 22 arrests were made in the first quarter of the current financial year.
Items confiscated during the same 15-month period include 85 kilogrammes of cast iron drain covers and frames, 11 gully grids, 11.1 kilogrammes of telecommunication cable (66 metres) and 288.5 kilograms of copper cable (665 metres).
Much of the unit’s efforts are centred around a list of the most prolific hotspots across the metropole which include Bishop Lavis, Claremont and Rondebosch.
The unit was established 10 years ago to curb the theft of City-infrastructure but their scope has broadened since then.
“Officers recover infrastructure belonging to state-owned enterprises as well as private sector companies,” says the Mayco member for safety and security, JP Smith.
Two years ago, the unit had its powers extended in terms of the Second Hand Goods Act, which allows for the inspection of scrap metal dealers and bucket shops.
The Criminal Matters Amendment Act introduced the option of harsher sentences for cable thieves.
“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,” added Smith.