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Jun 23, 2011

Copper cable theft declared a high-priority crime

Business Against Crime excutive: strategy Advocate Simi Pillay-van Graan discusses key priority issues identified in dealing with nonferrous metal theft in South Africa. Editing: Lionel da Silva.
DataDot senior strategic analyst Dekker van Wyk discusses copper theft in South Africa. Editing: Lionel da Silva.
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Copper cable theft, which is estimated to cost the South African economy about R5-billion a year, has been declared a high-priority crime, Business Against Crime South Africa executive: strategy Advocate Simi Pillay-van Graan said on Thursday.

Speaking at the Copper Cable Theft conference, in Johannesburg, she said the crime would now receive the focus and attention it needed and that government was realising the impact that copper theft has on the economy.

The organisation was engaging with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to incorporate more stringent legislation that would see stricter regulation of import and export processes, which would ensure that the exporting of stolen goods, including copper, was punishable by a jail sentence of up to ten to fifteen years, Pillay-van Graan said.

“Currently, South Africa’s International Trade and Administration Act does not allow for the policing of these processes, which makes it an open door for syndicated criminal activity to successfully enable stolen goods and nonferrous metals to leave the country.

“Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies and international trade administration authorities do not have the resources to check every container that leaves South Africa. This is a challenge and it is critical for us to address this matter with the Minister of the DTI and to have him incorporate stringent legislation, which will not hinder trade that builds the economy, but hinder the export or import of stolen or illegal goods,” she said.

The import and export processes were the first of four high-impact areas identified. Other interventions included the establishment of a central facility to coordinate data and more proactive policing.

“The South African Police Services (SAPS) has been very proactive in the provinces and nationally. However, there will be operational plans developed in each province and more vigorous policing.

“There are a lot of high-level developments within the SAPS, which will cater to and accommodate this,” Pillay-van Graan said.

But, what was most critical, and the fourth aspect of the high-impact areas was that “business needed to get its house in order”.

Pillay-van Graan said: “It is very easy to say there is a reliance on law enforcement organisations to do the policing but we believe most of the risks exist within businesses. There is a need for businesses to unpack their value chain and “clean up their houses”.

“Business also needs to identify internal risks throughout their value chain, from financial investment to security, skills and capability of staff, including outsourcing contracts.”

“We are quite positive about the export and import processes and believe it will probably have the highest impact on curbing nonferrous theft. We will look to a combination of the four aspects we have identified to help grow our economy. We are going to get more ‘purified’ money coming into the economy and South Africa will not be a conduit to facilitate criminal activity across our borders,” Pillay-van Graan told Engineering News Online.

But, she said that it was also key for industry and government in South Africa to understand that the theft of nonferrous metals was not only the result of local challenges, but also changes in the international arena.

The international demand for copper, particularly from developing economies like India and China, as well as Saudi Arabia were also driving organised syndicated crime in South Africa and increasing the level of incidents of theft.

Meanwhile, microdot manufacturer DataDot senior strategic analyst Dekker van Wyk emphasised the key role that technology would play in dealing with cable theft, and the need to start looking for solutions that could be deployed at a manufacturing level.

He believed that technology, including microdots, could be used as a cost-effective method of identification. “Cable is devoid of an identity once the casing has been removed. By the time it reaches the foundry or for export, it is in its raw state and the individual who has it in their presence can claim ownership.”

He advocated for a separate crime code for copper theft, given that copper is the third most stolen commodity in South Africa.

Van Wyk also pointed to the new Second-Hand Goods Act, of 2009, as key to curbing copper theft as it would place strain on scrap metal dealers. The new Act is expected to be implemented from January 1, 2012.

Edited by: Mariaan Webb
Creamer Media Senior Researcher and Deputy Editor Online
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