Metals theft

By Niko Allie

In April 2023, large parts of Tshwane were plunged into darkness for several days following the collapse of the power lines. Upon inspection it was found that three pylons were vandalised, which caused the power lines to collapse.

The widespread theft of copper cable and other forms of metal from public infrastructure threatens to cripple our nation, and has serious real world consequences. Metals theft impacts on power supply, which often plunges suburbs into darkness, it leaves trains unable to operate and causes massive damage to public facilities throughout the country.

Vandalism and theft of public infrastructure poses a great risk to our nation and her people and there is a need for decisive action to protect our vital infrastructure. Transnet, Eskom and the South African Police Service, have all indicated that the theft of copper and ferrous metal has reduced but remains at very high levels and continues to cause considerable damage to the infrastructure and to the economy.

The economic damage of copper theft alone has been estimated at more than R45 billion annually. This was a finding in research commissioned by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition from an independent research team from Genesis Analytics.

Transnet’s regularly published cable theft statistics show that during a single week in April 2022 there were 123 attacks on South Africa’s rail infrastructure, including the theft of 39.4 km

of copper cable.  Transnet reported 1 121km of cable stolen in the 2023 financial year, a nearly eight-fold increase over five years. In addition Eskom copper theft is reckoned to cost R5-7 billion a year, plus another roughly R2 billion to replace stolen cables.

These criminal acts take a severe toll on public infrastructure, the economy and impact on our quality of life. The criminal theft of electricity cables, power pylons, railway tracks, traffic lights and manhole covers have reached alarming levels. They are impacting our way of life and threaten to erode many of the gains we have made.

The economic and other costs of metals theft is enormous. For example, copper theft constitutes a serious threat to our national infrastructure, undermining the country’s low-cost rail advantage and the performance of our electrical grids. 

Metals theft also impacts society in a multitude of ways.  It leads to decreased business confidence, and theft along our rail corridors have caused a massive reduction in South Africa’s low-cost rail advantage.  When the power goes off because of metals theft it disrupts essential services such as power supply to hospitals, businesses and homes. It often causes damage to infrastructure, which must be replaced at great cost, and inconvenience to citizens.

Government is working to end metals theft through a smart mix of regulations and enforcement, but we need an all of society approach to tackle this most complex issue.  All of us need to stop cable theft, and we need to do it now.  These actions are an attack on our democratic order and our very way of life.  They affect all of us and therefore we all need to stand up to end it.

If you see something or know about stolen goods report what you know or your suspicions to your nearest police station. Report what you know immediately as thieves will often attempt to sell items the same day or within days.

By working together we can ensure that criminals have no place to hide and in the process help to keep the lights on and our neighbourhood infrastructure safe.