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Copper wire found at an illegal scrapyard in Helenvale, Nelson Mandela Bay. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE
Copper wire found at an illegal scrapyard in Helenvale, Nelson Mandela Bay. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE

Cabinet has approved that public consultations commence on proposals to restrict the trade of illegally obtained scrap and processed metals, as the state battles rampant theft of critical infrastructure.

The theft of metal, which is largely being driven by growing global demand for copper scrap, in part due to tight supplies and low inventories pushing prices to record highs, has become a huge headache for the state. Eskom’s infrastructure is being routinely targeted by thieves and saboteurs, which further limits its capacity to keep the lights on.

Minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele said at a post-cabinet media briefing on Thursday that cabinet directed that the department of trade, industry & competition should lead the consultations within a limited period, and solicit inputs from the public and relevant sectors on effective measures that the government can implement to curb metal theft. The theft of metal costs SA’s economy billions of rand and has crippled some parastatals, adding to delays in crucial sectors such as freight rail and disrupting electricity supply.

“Thereafter [after consultations], cabinet will pronounce on the approved measures,” Gungubele said.

“The theft of ... metal and copper cable from public infrastructure hinders the performance of the economy by imposing enormous costs. Some of the disruptions include the supply of energy and rail services due to vandalised rail tracks. They impose additional transport costs on commuters due to disrupted commuter transport. Vandalised and unsecured electricity cables pose a safety risks to communities, especially children,” the minister said.

Freight rail operator Transnet, partially state-owned telecom operator Telkom and power utility Eskom estimate that thieves and vandals cost them a total of R7bn a year, with the knock-on damage to the broader economy amounting to about R187bn annually.

Parliament is due to hold a debate on the metal theft crisis, after a request by the DA.

“The available evidence proves just how severe the impact of theft and vandalism of our electricity, rail and municipal infrastructure is,” DA MP Mat Cuthbert said in May.  

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan recently called for a temporary prohibition on the export of scrap metal, saying allowing such shipments is seriously damaging public infrastructure and the economy. 



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