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Metal industry says Mbalula’s call for ban on scrap metal is a bad idea

Mbalula said the ban would discourage the theft and vandalism of critical rail infrastructure. Picture: Prasa

Mbalula said the ban would discourage the theft and vandalism of critical rail infrastructure. Picture: Prasa

Published May 11, 2022

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Cape Town - A leading scrap metal industry player SA Metal said Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s call for a ban on the selling of scrap metal was a bad idea that could ruin the economy.

However, the idea has support from the likes of the City and farmers who have wholeheartedly welcomed it and called for the involvement of law enforcement.

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While addressing a media briefing on the White Paper on National Rail Policy on Monday, Mbalula said the ban would discourage the theft and vandalism of critical rail infrastructure that was sabotaging the country's economy.

He said a ban would reinforce the government’s interventions to protect public assets and make the theft of cables and other metals less lucrative.

He said that among other things, the industry was responsible for the rampant theft of railway infrastructure.

“The criminality behind the rampant theft and vandalism of railway infrastructure that has stripped bare our stations and rail network requires extraordinary interventions that go beyond merely stepping up security.”

Mbalula was echoing the call made last week by Cabinet colleague and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, who said in Parliament that to alleviate the risk of continued damage, theft and vandalism of freight rail infrastructure, the government should consider a temporary ban on the sale of scrap metal.

In July 2020 the government banned all exports of ferrous and non-ferrous scrap metal for two months. At the time, this move was taken to safeguard domestic supply while it considered measures to support the domestic industry.

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On Tuesday, SA Metal Group Director Graham Barnett disagreed with the government ministers and said a ban on the selling of scrap metal would result in steel mills, foundries, copper mills, aluminium mills and other factories which use scrap metal to manufacture products for the domestic and export markets having to cease operations.

SA Metal Group is South Africa’s oldest and largest metal recycling company with scrapyards in and around Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Barnett said a ban would result in steel mills, foundries, copper mills, aluminium mills and other factories which use scrap metal to manufacture products for the domestic and export markets having to cease operations.

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He said scrap metal recycling companies that supply such factories would also have to close down.

“Many types of metal products, such as steel bars, steel wire, aluminium window frames, copper conductors and brass valves, would no longer be able to be manufactured in South Africa and instead would have to be imported.”

Barnett said a ban would lead to hundreds of thousands of jobs in the formal sector being lost and scrap metal collecting would no longer be a source of income for the hundreds of thousands of informal collectors who currently make a living from this trade.

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Mayco member for safety and security JP Smith said there had been several comments made by various national government representatives recently, around potential restrictions on the scrap metal trade.

He said the City would welcome efforts to curb the rampant cable theft and vandalism of critical infrastructure, but these would need to be expedited.

“However, it is imperative that such efforts be effective and that whatever regulations are imposed, or legislative changes made, be enforced with vigour by the criminal justice system.”

He said in the interim, the City, through its enforcement agencies, and the Metal Theft Unit (MTU) in particular, continues to do everything possible within its mandate to address theft and vandalism of infrastructure.

Smith said that in the first three months of this year, the MTU arrested 54 suspects, issued just over 2 000 fines, and recovered hundreds of kilograms of infrastructure belonging to the City, Eskom, Telkom and other entities.

In addition, they conducted 561 inspections at scrapyards, during which they issued 95 warning notices and closed 29 facilities.

Following a similar call by the minister in February, support came from commercial farmers union TLU SA, who said they hoped he would ensure it was not just stolen Prasa material that comes under scrutiny.

TLU SA’s local government committee chairperson Erika Helm said: “This is not just a Prasa problem. This is a challenge for every business, including agriculture.” She said the government should strongly address the trade in stolen goods.

Farmer Bertus van der Westhuizen called for a particular focus on scrap dealers trading in copper and aluminium.

He said tractors and harvesters’ radiators and wiring harnesses were stripped at a tremendous rate for the copper.

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Cape Argus

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