It is estimated that South Africa loses in the order of R5-billion a year owing to cable theft that disrupts electricity, telecommunications and rail services.
The estimated direct cost of cable theft in South Africa is R500-million a year.
However, Business Against Crime (BAC) South Africa says the indirect cost to the economy is – conservatively – ten times higher than the expenditure required for replacing stolen cables.
The knock-on effects of cable theft include a reduction in production or service delivery, a drop in productivity and loss of business to competitors.
BAC organised crime project manager Lorinda Nel said that there was a dramatic increase in the incidence of cable theft in 2006.
In 2006, South African telecommuni- cations company Telkom, electric- ity utility Eskom and rail utility Spoor- net (now Transnet Freight Rail) reported more than 11 000 incidents of this crime.
In 2005, these companies reported a total of about 6 500 incidents of cable theft.
It is believed that the record commodity price of copper and the strong demand for the metal, especially from China, is the main reason for the escalating occurrence of cable theft in South Africa.
When exported in a processed form, copper is sold for about R55 000/t.
Local scrap metal dealers pay between R35/kg and R39/kg, depend- ing on the purity of the product.
BAC is currently conducting a study to determine the markets in which stolen copper cable is sold.
Telkom asset and revenue protection services senior forensic manager Advocate Thokozani Mvelase said that the company was concerned about the slow rate of convictions and the high number of repeat offenders.
Mvelase said that, in Telkom’s experience, most of the repeat offenders were illegal immigrants who, when caught, were deported to their countries of origin, only to return to South Africa and commit the same crime again.
He added that one of the biggest challenges in combating cable theft was to successfully curtail the activities of informal collectors for the recycling market.
Mvelase called for an intensified national campaign – including greater legislative powers – to clamp down on cable thieves.
Telkom suffered an estimated loss of about R178-million in the financial year up to March 2007 owing to having to replace stolen cable and copper wire.
Measures introduced by the company to combat the scourge of cable theft included the installation of alarms that are activated when cable transmissions are interrupted.
When several thefts take place in an area, it is identified as a hotspot and resources are deployed in an attempt to arrest the thieves.