The cost of copper stolen from cables belonging to Eskom, Telkom and Transnet hit R13.6 million in April. Photo: Antoine de Ras

ANA

SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) acting chief executive Peggy Drodskie yesterday said that the copper theft barometer level had risen to R13.6 million in April, from R12.6m in March.

She said: “The April figure is 7.08 percent higher than a month ago, and 0.11 percent lower than a year ago. Bearing in mind that the Sacci copper theft barometer is based only on theft from Eskom, Telkom and Transnet, and considering that it comprises only the cost of replacing the metal; this figure is but a drop in the ocean when the impact on the economy is taken into account.”

Estimates

Drodskie said recent estimates put the loss to the country’s economy at between R5 billion and R7bn a year.

“The copper theft volume indicator increased to 179 tons in April from 173 tons in March. This is concerning considering that replacement of the stolen cables has to take place before essential maintenance. Eskom, in particular, needs the cash flow to invest in maintenance at power stations,” she said.

Drodskie stated that South African exports of waste copper products had increased significantly to $7.2m (R88m) in March from $3.4m in January and $7m last August. This, she said, was worrying as “South Africa has only 2 percent of the global copper reserves, but now has the reputation of being the largest exporter of copper to China and India. There is thus a disconnect between the amount of copper mined and that being exported.”

The international average monthly spot price of copper increased to $6 432 in April from $6 026 in March 2015. But South Africa was not the only country that faces this scourge. Internationally, copper theft was increasing.

“Professor Bradly Mills, director of law enforcement at the Institute of Scrap Recycling in Washington says that copper theft costs the US economy more than $1 billion (R12.2bn) a year. Each of the US states has legislation to combat copper theft, and some even go as far as requiring photographs of vehicles, the items presented and of the sellers,” Drodskie said.

The relationship between the dollar price and the volume of theft had levelled off over recent months, albeit with fluctuations. However, there was a discernible rise in exports since the start of the year.

Given the tough laws countries have started to implement to fight copper theft, Drodskie said Sacci believed it was time to look at the effectiveness of South Africa’s current laws.