Copper syndicate thrives, state suffers as state lacks teeth

The Free State’s’s chief prosecutor, Sello Matlhoko, addressing stakeholders about copper cable theft and vandalism trends at a meeting in Bloemfontein.Photo:Teboho Setena

The Free State’s’s chief prosecutor, Sello Matlhoko, addressing stakeholders about copper cable theft and vandalism trends at a meeting in Bloemfontein.Photo:Teboho Setena

Public-private entities in the greater Bloemfontein are exploring means to tighten the net around cable and copper syndicates.

This is after the inability of the criminal justice system to effectively deal with the syndicates and the vandalism of essential infrastructure was highlighted at a consultative meeting that was held at the headquarters of Centlec in Bloemfontein on Wednesday (03/08).

This fact-finding meeting aims at presenting solutions to resolve increasing cable and copper theft plus deliberate vandalism of infrastructure by the syndicates.The justice system’s inability to deal the syndicate is noted with a huge backlog of unresolved cases.

Malefane Sekoboto, Centlec’s chief executive officer, substantiated the difficulty – revealing that of the more than 210 cases opened, only three cases have been finalised in court.

These cases cover the period of 2019 to 2022, before April this year.

Sekoboto has raised grave concerns about the lack of progress in investigations and the finalisation of pending cases, despite culprits being caught with the loot, and on premises ripping infrastructure apart to steal copper cables.

He said this form of crime has costed the entity approximately R1,87 million when it came to replacing stolen copper cables and repairing of damaged infrastructure for the period in question.

“This results in failure to render good service to businesses, and causes the economy to suffer,” said Sekoboto.

According to him, the justice system’s inability also extends to investigative police officers not understanding the nature of cases.

“They seem to misinterpret the nature of cases, and this is a concern as we depend on the police to further investigate cases to ensure we deal with theft and vandalism of essential infrastructure.”

The syndicates target essential infrastructure belonging to private-public entities such as Centlec, MTN, Vodacom, Telkom, Cell- C, Eskom, Transnet and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).

The Free State’s chief prosecutor, Sello Matlhoko, pointed out that foreign nationals were chief culprits involved in cable and copper theft.

“At the level of the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), we have unfortunately lost capable officials that have been dealing with such cable and copper theft cases, including vandalism of essential infrastructure that harms the economy,” said Matlhoko.

“Judging by the number of incidents reported, it is evident that copper theft has reached epidemic proportions in this province.

“It is a structured and organised crime that poses problems and challenges for many, if not all of the stakeholders.”

The increase in thecopper and cable theft, as well as the vandalism of essential infrastructure, has led to the collapse of the #Copper Theft Must Fall forum. The consultative meeting initiated by Centlec was also aimed at reviving the forum.

Lele Mamatu, Centlec spokesperson, said a follow-up meeting would be held, during which stakeholders will consolidate input on how to tighten the belt against combat the syndicates and bring culprits to book.