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A partial, but potentially lethal, bridge collapse on Saturday was caused, it turns out, by thieves who somehow removed stainless steel shackles essential to the 60-year-old structure.
How they did it on the Ellis Brown Viaduct at the uMngeni River mouth remains a puzzle, and the modest value of the steel also has city officials wondering.
“Now they are stealing bridges,” will be the exasperated response from law-abiding citizens who will have to pay for what will be a costly and disruptive repair to one of Durban’s main traffic thoroughfares.
Wittingly or not, the thieves compromised the bridge’s safety. But the steel clearly has value to the people who took it – and to those who will buy it from them. It is doubtful that either the thieves or the receiver care that it escalated into an act of serious sabotage.
Theft is rife in South Africa. It would be less so if stolen goods had no value. But they are bought by a second, unseen echelon of accomplices who profit from goods at fractional prices. Where, for instance, do the 60 000 or so cars and motorcycles go that are stolen in this country every year? And 10 000 hijacked cars a year suggest a violent industry where cars are seized on order.
Where does all that copper cable go? What of the metal balustrades? Or all those brass numbers off garden gates?
The Second-Hand Goods Act, which came into full effect on May 1, is aimed at ridding us of that second row of criminals. It seeks to keep tight control of all types of dealers in used goods, requiring their formal registration with police, records of people they purchase from, and imposing up to 10 years’ for offences.
Will this law retard theft or robbery? Will it deter the furtive receivers? Enforcement of the Act and prosecutions will tell. Better to have this law governing the second-hand trade, though, because it offers police another weapon to combat theft.