Chamber members will have been pleased to see that the problem of copper theft from Transnet, Eskom and Telkom is at last being taken seriously by the Government.
This follows years of lobbying by the Chamber. When we first raised the issue we complained that cable theft was being treated as vandalism by the police and not taken seriously. We produced horrifying figures on the quantities of scrap copper exported from the Western Cape. We pointed out the economic consequences of severed power, transport and communication links and we asked a former Premier of the Western Cape to set up a commission of inquiry to determine who was behind the thefts and how to stop it. Nothing happened. Then, at a Business meets City symposium we described copper theft as economic sabotage and asked the City to do something. The result was the formation by the City of a specialist unit known as “The Copperheads” which was lead by Councillor Peter Van Dalen.
The Copperheads achieved some major successes and saved the City million of rands. Now Mr Van Dalen is in Parliament and he is asking the right kind of questions about the problem. The answers have been horrifying. Transnet is losing 27 km of copper cable a month! The total Transnet and Eskom losses over the last five years have amounted to R330m and hundreds of millions of rands have been spent on extra security measures to deter thieves.
How many thousands of houses could have been built with this money and how many decent jobs would have been created in the process?
Now there are calls for the army to protect infrastructure and to “treat copper like gold” and for special licences for those who trade in the metal.
At last the problem is getting the attention it deserves. The problem has not yet been solved, but at last the years of determined and imaginative lobbying by the Chamber are beginning to pay off.