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Durban - A heavily armed gang of cable thieves, believed to be part of a syndicate operating in KwaZulu-Natal, was arrested after a gunfight with police in uMlazi early on Thursday.
One gang member was shot dead and more than R600 000 worth of cables were recovered in a minibus taxi.
The gang has been linked to the theft of cables in the area in late January that resulted in trains being delayed. Frustrated and angry commuters torched the trains which were late, causing damage estimated at more than R40 million.
Train stations were being targeted because of the length and thickness of the cables, which made it more profitable to sell, a police source said.
Thursday’s theft also affected the train service in uMlazi. Police said cable theft in the province was rife.
KZN police spokesman Colonel Vincent Mdunge said the gang struck at 3am in the Ngonyameni area, near K-Section, uMlazi.
Police acted on information from crime intelligence in the Pinetown cluster, and intercepted the white minibus taxi the gang members were travelling in.
They were helped by the SAPS and metro police dog units. Mdunge said: “Eight people were in the taxi and they were armed to the teeth.
“They had stolen cables from a nearby railway station. “When police from Bhekithemba police station attempted to stop the taxi, the passengers opened fire.
“Police returned fire. One suspect was shot dead and another was injured. Four were arrested while two escaped into nearby bushes.”
One of the escaped suspects was believed to have been shot. Mdunge said two stolen firearms and ammunition were also recovered.
The suspects are expected to appear at uMlazi Magistrate’s Court today on charges of attempted murder, theft and possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition.
A police source close the investigation said uMlazi had been plagued by cable theft recently.
He said the syndicate was known to operate in Durban’s southern suburbs, including Isipingo, as well as in Hammarsdale and Inchanga.
“They try to go into areas that are not easily accessible by police to ensure a quick getaway.
“Fortunately this time, we received a tip-off,” the source said. “This is a lucrative business.
“The cables are sold to scrapyard dealers or other syndicates that deal in stolen goods. Cable theft has been identified as a national threat.
“It is costing our city billions of rand in lost revenue every year.
“We are closing in on the syndicate. The man that benefits the most from these deals is a very, very wealthy person from the Durban area. It is just a matter of time before he is caught and sent to jail.”