Durban - KWAZULU-Natal police have dealt a blow to a multi-million rand cable theft syndicate operating from the South Coast, seizing more than R4 million worth of cables and a host of items belonging to the eThekwini Municipality.
Officers celebrated the bust at a homestead in Inkwali near Illovo on the South Coast, and another in Ispingo on the same day where nearly 50 rolls of cables ‒ each costing R80 000 ‒ were discovered last week. But senior detectives believe it is only the tip of the iceberg as the syndicate’s tentacles reach all the way into the upper echelons of the eThekwini Municipality.
During the raids, three men and one woman were arrested. They appeared in court and are expected to apply for bail this week.
The raid came after George Snowdey, of the Amanzimtoti Community Crime Prevention Organisation (CCPO), spotted thick black smoke being emitted from the burning of plastic and rubber while on a ride through sugar cane fields near Inkwali.
He said that he suspected it was being burnt by cable thieves and called for backup from ET Rapid Security and the local police who arrived quickly on the scene.
As the police and the security officers waded through the thicket of bushes, he said, the suspects fled but were chased down and caught.
“What we found shocked us,” Snowdey said.
“In the yard there were 20 rolls of cables delivered that day of which eight was still intact. They all came from the eThekwini Municipality and still had the markings on them,” he said.
Following up on information from the crime scene, police proceeded to a house in Isipingo where 27 more rolls cable were recovered as well as 10 extension ladders belonging to the eThekwini Municipality worth tens of thousands of rands.
“The 27 rolls of cables were already stripped and ready to be shipped out. Together with the police and City officials we spent the whole day cataloguing what was found,” Snowdey said.
“It was a major find. This syndicate is the reason why there are constant power and water outages on the South Coast.
“When the cables are stolen, the municipality cannot replace them because they don’t have stock. They don’t have stock because it is all being stolen.
“Someone has to be held accountable for this because this theft affects every ratepayer in the city,” Snowdey said.
A senior police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the four people recently arrested were linked to a larger syndicate.
The officer said that last year Umkomaas police arrested members of the same syndicate with more than R6 million worth of cable stolen from the eThekwini Municipality.
“We believe that the people behind this syndicate are operating within the municipality because there is no way that they can get delivered up to 20 rolls of copper a day from a municipal compound without inside help.
“Who is signing in for the cables and who is signing out for the cables being delivered to this syndicate? These are just some of the questions we want answers to,” the police officer said.
According to the eThekwini Municipality, the estimated loss due to copper theft is approximately R5 billion a year with eThekwini Electricity contributing R60 million to that loss.
The cable theft has an impact on the City’s communication network, electricity supply and railway and traffic services.
eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the City welcomed the latest arrests.
“The City has always taken a strong stance against the theft of cables, especially electricity cables, as this often leads to devastating and tragic consequences, such as loss of life as well as damage to infrastructure costing the municipality millions annually.
“Our law enforcement is visible in areas where this crime is prevalent, however, we cannot always know when or where these criminals plan to attack,” he said.
According to the City, people steal cables and sell them to scrap dealers for money or they are used for illegal connections.
Copper cables hold a high monetary value and can be sold for between R65 and R70 per kilogram.
The scrap metal business has become very lucrative with unscrupulous dealers simply buying copper with no questions asked. The stolen copper is then exported to other countries like China and India ‒ and the same copper is then procured by the country it has been stolen from.
Mayisela urged all citizens to demonstrate civic pride and a sense of co-ownership of resources and assets by reporting these acts of crime.
“Cable thieves must be stopped because of the impact on our daily lives and in the long term, our economy and job creation.
“Acts of vandalism taking place in our communities cannot be addressed by the municipality and police alone. They require vigilance from us as community members and we must not look away when we know that our relatives, neighbours and friends are involved in these illicit activities.
“Any suspicion of cable theft or damage to infrastructure must be reported to the SAPS on 10111 and on the Metro Police Emergency Line 031 361 0000”.
The KZN police media centre did not respond to questions from IOL at the time of publishing.