Want to steal a cable? See you in 30 years

From tomorrow onwards, anyone planning to steal cables and other key infrastructure may find themselves heading to prison for decades.

Tomorrow, the Criminal Matters Amendment Act comes into force, meaning that cable theft will no longer be seen as a petty crime. This long-awaited amendment will see far harsher sentencing being imposed on criminals found guilty of stealing cables or damaging infrastructure.

Replacing copper cables costs Eskom around R2 billion every year. They are not the only ones hit by cable theft, with Telkom and Transnet also badly affected. In 2008/09 Transnet’s security head, Rodney Toka, reported that they had cables stolen with a replacement cost of R95.5 million.

Cities are also suffering under this scourge with syndicates targeting infrastructure such as traffic lights and stripping them of the semi-precious metal.

The SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s copper theft barometer found that, in 2015, theft from Eskom, Telkom and Transnet alone cost up to R15 million every month.

The act was fast-tracked by the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission, taking only a few months to reach the National Assembly, where it was voted in by everyone except the EFF. In December 2015, President Jacob Zuma signed it into law.

In February, Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel spoke about it in parliament, saying, “We will crack down on cable and metal theft from trains and electricity substations.”

The new act makes it possible to impose prison sentences of up to 30 years, with fines up to R100 000 for companies who collude with thieves.

A major problem with charging cable thieves is that it is difficult to prove that copper found in their possession is from theft. This act looks to change that by placing the onus on those who are found with scrap metal to prove where it comes from.

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