“Out-of-control theft of cables and essential infrastructure amounted to economic sabotage of South Africa’s future growth prospects, threatening investment, employment security, livelihoods and community safety.”
This is according to Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber’s Chief Executive Officer Denise van Huyssteen, who further stated that the scale of the problem, the likely involvement of cross-border organised crime syndicates and the wide-ranging socio-economic impacts warrant a State of Disaster that would enable a coordinated, national response driven from Cabinet-level.
The declaration of a State of Disaster on the vandalism of infrastructure should lead Government’s response to cable and infrastructure theft that is occurring at an industrial scale and crippling the South African economy.
The NMB Business Chamber has sent a formal request to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to take this drastic step in order to protect public assets that are essential to service delivery and supporting investment and job creation.
Copper cable theft from rail and electricity networks alone is estimated to cost the economy R45 billion annually, while the wider knock-on impact of cable theft across the economy has been estimated at R187 billion.
“We don’t advocate for such a step lightly. However, a state of disaster of this nature should not affect the daily lives and movement of the general public, as it would be specifically targeted at protecting infrastructure and monitoring, tracking down and prosecuting the perpetrators of these crimes,” said Van Huyssteen.
She said that the Business Chamber Board believed that cable and infrastructure theft and vandalism were the greatest current threat to the South African economy, and that it met the criteria for a State of Disaster as specified in the Disaster Management Act.
In relation to the definition of a disaster in the Act, theft of cables and infrastructure, and associated vandalism, are widespread across the country. They are human-caused, and they can (and do) lead to death or injury.
They cause damage to property, infrastructure and the environment. There is also the knock-on effect of lost productivity and wages.
They are disruptive of the life of a community, in the inconvenience of electricity and water outages caused by theft, and in the resulting loss of lives and livelihoods.
“Finally, it is clear that the magnitude and scale of the problem is beyond the ability of individual municipalities, state-owned enterprises, metro police services and national security and intelligence services acting alone to adequately secure infrastructure, to prevent these crimes and to enforce the law with sufficient deterrent effect,” said Van Huyssteen.
The Business Chamber has welcomed the coordinating initiatives of the CEOs of Eskom, Prasa, Telkom and Transnet through the Economic Sabotage of Critical Infrastructure Forum and believes that a State of Disaster would unlock the national resources to take this initiative further.
Ban scrap metal exports
The recent moves by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition to temporarily ban scrap metal exports and tighten up the regulations on local and international trade in scrap metal are welcomed and should form part of the State of Disaster response.
“It is imperative that existing laws are used to their maximum effect in policing and prosecuting crimes relating to infrastructure theft and vandalism.
“Crime intelligence needs to play a greater role in monitoring organised crime activity, proactive alerts to security services, and ensuring that criminal syndicates are not driven further underground.
“The framework of criminal law is in place. What is needed is a stronger and more effective drive to enforce the law and prosecute the crimes.
“Securing convictions and maximum penalties where the crime involves an impact on essential infrastructure must act as a deterrent to these crimes,” said Van Huyssteen.
“Declaration of a State of Disaster is a drastic step but is an imperative if we are to restore an environment conducive to community life, business, employment and socio-economic development.”