Copper theft: Still a major problem in Cape Town?

A few years ago, copper theft was a major problem for Cape Town. News headlines would scream daily about the most recent cases of government infrastructure and personal property stripped of copper by thieves. The most basic tools were left useless without their copper parts – taps wouldn’t turn – but it was the more serious thievery – copper taken from traffic lights and train lines – which left the city crippled.


Fighting copper theft


Much was done to stop this scourge. The City of Cape Town established the Copperheads, an elite task team of specially trained officers,  to follow up on leads of copper thieves and investigate scrapyards to ensure stolen property is not purchased. Copper thieves are usually desperate people who will steal cables and pipes to earn money, despite risk of serious injury and death. Identification is burned off the cables and sold to scrap dealers.

“The growth of the illegal trade in copper cable in Cape Town forms part of a larger global phenomenon. Although our city has no copper mines, over R77 million worth of copper leaves our shores each year,” says the City.


Cost to Cape Town


Both households and businesses have had their time and money wasted because of copper theft. “In the past 12 months alone, it has cost Cape Town ratepayers R22 million to replace and repair stolen and vandalized cables and equipment at substations, sewage pump stations, street lights and on other Council property. Besides the disruptions to the supply of electricity, the money that is wasted on cable theft could be better used to extend services to those Cape Town residents who don’t yet have electricity,” says the City.


Head of the Coppperheads, Pieter van Dalen, says: “Decisive action needs to be taken to deal with the theft of non-ferrous metal. Unless proper steps are taken, the continuing theft of copper cable will continue to undermine economic growth and development in South Africa.”


In August 2014 it was reported the City was looking to toughen copper theft laws. Whatever happened, it appears to be working. Recently, copper theft has not made the headlines as often as it did previously.