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The Democratic Alliance on Thursday proposed several measures to curb metal theft, which is costing the economy billions of rand each year.
"Metal theft is a serious problem facing the country at the moment, which, if left unresolved, runs the risk of undermining the proper functioning of our infrastructure network, as well as hindering future economic growth and development," DA spokesperson Dianne Kohler-Barnard told a media briefing at parliament.
The direct and indirect costs of metal theft were severe, and already companies such as Telkom and Eskom had lost more than a billion rand in total over the past few years.
It was not only a question of the costs of copper cables, but also piping and iron manhole covers stolen and sold for scrap metal.
The theft of these items caused severe disruptions to service delivery for the public, and even endangered people's lives.
Since 2004 a number of tragic and preventable deaths had occurred as result of incidents of metal theft.
These included at least six deaths of young children resulting from the theft of metal covers from manholes, Kohler-Barnard said.
South Africa had minimal reserves of copper, yet as much as 3000 tons of copper left Cape Town harbour every month.
At R50 a kilogram, this translated into R15-million worth of stolen copper per month.
It was estimated that South Africa lost approximately R5-billion per annum due to metal theft, she said.
Cable theft and the resulting disrupted electricity and telephone services had obvious implications for businesses and social services, affecting hundreds if not thousands of people who were prevented from going about their daily business.
"Unless decisive action is taken, it is likely that metal theft will cause more needless pain and suffering and place even further strain on the economy," Kohler-Barnard said.
The DA proposed, among other things, that the Non-Ferrous Theft Combating Committee (NFTCC) be empowered through legislation and its own dedicated budget.
The SA Police Service should reinstate the SAPS code for copper theft to aid crime information, create a specialised unit to deal with NFM theft, and provide specialised training for SAPS members in this regard.
There should also be a comprehensive training module on metal theft, in particular copper theft, for judicial officers such as public prosecutors and judges.
Export controls for non-ferrous metals should be reviewed and strengthened, and a feasibility study done into a special NFM export duty.
The funds generated should be used to compensate businesses for losses incurred as a result of copper cable theft.
Further, copper cables should be marked in some way, such as micro-dotting and identifying groove markings, and a reward hotline introduced for those providing information leading to arrests.
Finally, the draft Second-hand Goods Bill's passage through parliament should be expedited and the backlog of licence applications by NFM dealers cleared, she said. - Sapa