25/04/2014 Tshwane municipal truck drivers who took part in the illegal selling of bulk waste containers to a Bulgarian national. Picture: Phill Magakoe

Johannesburg -

Four Tshwane truck drivers who were arrested for allegedly stealing and selling metal bulk waste containers have sunk a R7 million hole in the coffers of the municipality.

The drivers were arrested by the Hawks just after they reported for work on Friday morning at the waste management depot in Von Wielligh Street in Pretoria West.

The suspects, who were led to two unmarked cars while their colleagues watched, face charges of theft.

They will appear in the Pretoria North Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday, having spent the long weekend, including Sunday’s commemoration of South Africa’s first democratic election, behind bars.

Suspension procedures will begin as soon as they are out of custody.

City spokesman Lindela Mashigo told journalists an internal audit had revealed that 52 containers with a combined value of about R7m were missing.

Mashigo said the Tshwane municipality was “very serious” about rooting out corruption and theft and had a dedicated unit for dealing with such matters.

“This arrest will send out a clear warning to workers not to steal municipal property. Crime does not pay and those involved in criminal activities will be caught out eventually,” Mashigo said.

“It is only the beginning. We arrested an employee from the same depot on Thursday for theft of fuel. We at the City of Tshwane strive to ignite excellence and expect all its employees to act as such.”

He added that investigations into the matter were continuing and said the city had not ruled out the possibility of more arrests.

The arrests followed that of a Bulgarian national who was found in possession of the containers at his cash-for-scrap business in Akasia, north of Pretoria.

Other suspected stolen items such as steel poles, dustbins and billboards were also found on the property, Hawks spokesman Paul Ramaloko said.

The city uses 20 containers, including skips and cubics. These are stored in a dedicated yard for refurbishment.

Each container is worth about R120 000.

The management at the yard became suspicious when it came to light that the some of the containers were missing.

Forensic experts and the Hawks investigated, and with the help of tracking devices on the trucks, traced the containers to the property.

The containers were cut up and trucked to a Durban harbour, from where they were shipped to China.

Investigators intercepted a truck on the property that was loaded and ready for a trip to Durban.

The Bulgarian was granted R10 000 bail by the Pretoria North Magistrate’s Court on Thursday.

He will appear again on May 20.

Ramaloko said the directorate for priority crime investigation was determined to clamp down on the sale of second-hand goods.

He urged dealers to obtain information on who they get such goods from and for how much.

City manager Jason Ngobeni hailed the breakthrough as a positive step towards weeding out bad elements in the city.

“I am proud of the relentless efforts of our forensic audit team as well as the managers at the environmental and waste department who blew the whistle on discovering that something was fishy.

“I want to issue a stern warning to employees who are involved in wrongdoing that they should stop now before we get to them, because eventually we will get to them”, Ngobeni said.

Pretoria News Weekend

[email protected]