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Fresh off their haul of more than two tons of overhead copper cable in the last month, staff attached to the City’s Metals Theft Unit underwent training this past week on the legislation that they are now empowered to enforce. Read more below:

The City of Cape Town’s Metals Theft Unit confiscated more than two tons of stolen overhead copper cabling in July. The successes come as the Unit prepares to further strengthen its enforcement arsenal.

The Metals Theft Unit, or Copperheads as they are commonly known, was first introduced in 2007 to help address an increase in cable and metal theft at City facilities. Over the past decade, they have had to cast their net wider given the scale of the problem – in spite of their limited powers.

However, earlier this year, the National Police Minister extended the powers of law enforcement officers to be able to enforce the Second-Hand Goods Act – previously the preserve of the South African Police Service.This means that officers can now execute search warrants on properties, conduct search and seizure operations, and seal off premises at which second-hand goods are found in order to prevent a person from conducting business in contravention of the Act.

The Unit’s members just finalised training in the enforcement of the Second-Hand Goods Act this week.

‘Cable theft continues to be a challenge and often the same suspects are arrested time and again. Section 18 of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act of 2015 has given us some hope, because it allows for sentences of up to 30 years for people convicted of tampering with or damaging essential infrastructure. The additional powers under the Second-Hand Goods Amendment Act will now also allow our staff to act more decisively against scrap dealers,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security; and Social Services, Alderman JP Smith.

The added powers will go some way towards helping the City deliver service excellence to residents and create safer communities – key priorities in the Organisational Development and Transformation Plan.

In the first half of this year, the Copperheads conducted 787 inspections of scrapyards and bucket shops and made 33 arrests. They confiscated 139 kg of brass, 21 kg of heavy steel and 172 m of copper streetlight cable. Bucket shops are informal scrapyards normally operated from residential properties or containers and derived their name from the buckets that informal scrap dealers originally used to weigh metal.

Hotspots for metal theft and illegal traders include Bonteheuwel, Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain, Ocean View, Muizenberg and Kraaifontein.

In addition to their daily operations, the Unit also provides protection services to other City departments when they are required to install or maintain infrastructure and services in volatile or high-risk areas.

‘Metal theft is big business for some and a means for a quick fix for others. Either way, the City and others like Metrorail and Eskom are constantly targeted, often resulting in great inconvenience to communities and commuters. We’ve already started using alternative materials where possible to deter theft of City infrastructure, but we’re still counting the cost. The Copperheads are doing good work, but again we are dealing with a problem that is not solved through enforcement alone,’ added Alderman Smith.

The City calls on community members to provide information or tips about metal theft or unscrupulous scrap dealers so that those responsible can be prosecuted. The Metals Theft Unit can be contacted on 0800 222 771.

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