Although 2115 arrests have been made in the past six months, in which 9% are related to cable thefts, metal theft remains a devastating issue. At its critical point, it requires a definitive and effective solution, says regional manager of Metrorail, Richard Walker. Speaking to journalists at Cape Town Station on Friday, Walker said an integrated and sustainable response is required to eradicate the criminal activity.
“At least three or four incidents are reported every day across our extensive rail network,” said Walker.
The total arrests were made in the Western Cape as well as the Northern Cape which are all rail related offenses. Despite Metrorail Protection Services, Rapid Rail Response Unit and the South African Police Services collaborating together to tackle the issue, more stringent precautions needed to be taken to prohibit metal theft.
Walker said scrap-yards should be shut down if they continue to buy stolen copper and stricter sentences for offenders and tighter export control for non-ferrous and scrap metals.
“9% of the arrests are directly linked to cable theft which is very encouraging. In July we had major disruptions due to vandalism but from the 1 August 2014, a special cable team was put together comprising of Metrorail Protection Services and Rapid Rail Response Unit to tackle the issue,” said Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott.
The collaboration of these units was an approach to tackle metal theft more profusely due to the escalating vandalism which left cables butchered and services disrupted.
“There is unfortunately no alternative to copper yet for heavy current electric trains, which means that railways and other industries will remain at the mercy of metal thieves,” said Scott.
In previous incidents, train coaches were set alight and cables cut. These violent attacks resulted in volatile conditions where Passenger Rail Agency of SA CEO (PRASA) Mosengwa Mofi wanted to have the services suspended to ensure the safety of the passengers lives.
“The events of July this year prompted a joint focused approach to vandalism, resulting in the formation of a cable team to concentrate specifically on cable theft in the rail environment,” said Walker.
Walker described three distinct types of metal thieves: “There is the small operator, unemployed who regularly steals to survive, those with a specific agenda who commit ‘sabotage’ sporadically with intent to disrupt services but don’t steal anything and finally large, highly organized syndicates”.
A number of state-owned enterprises and companies also addressed the briefing on how they have been affected. These organizations include Transnet, Telkom, Eskom, Vodacom, City of Cape Town’s Copper Heads and Business Against Crime (BAC). Walker said this was proof that the damage to public infrastructure is in dire need of a integrated and sustained response on multiple fronts if it is to be eradicated.
He appealed to everyone to join the fight against metal theft by being vigilant and reporting incidences and unscrupulous scrap yards immediately.
The public may report crime or suspicious behaviour to any of the following numbers:
Rapid Rail Police Units:
Retreat 021-710 5129 / 0
Cape Town 021-443 4325 / 7
Philippi 021-370 1000
Bellville 021-941 6800
Crime Stop 08600 10111
Crime Tip-offs sms 32211
Metrorail Protection Services 021-449 4336
Transport for Cape Town 0800 65 64 63
A reward of up to R50 000 is payable for information leading to conviction. VOC (Nailah Cornelissen)