Over the years we have had many ups and downs with regard to finding the right answers in the ongoing battle against persons who like to enrich themselves by stealing Service Providers networks and infrastructure.
Some initiatives have worked, while the implementation of others have been addressed year after year without any sign of success. Some enthusiastic newcomer to the game would every now and then dust off old and buried issues and there would be a whole crusade to implement it as soon as possible. However, it would not take long for those involved to realize that there is no real solution at this stage of the game and the idea would be put to rest once again. As reported in previous articles in this bulletin, it is this sad state of affairs that creates frustration between the ranks of the Law Enforcement officials in the country, who just cannot seem to get on top of this problem.
However, this December saw two very important non ferrous combating initiatives taking place on consecutive days and we are happy to report that things are seemingly coming together and it is anticipated that we could see a huge effort against non ferrous thefts early in the new year.
The first initiative was the second meeting of the “new look” National Non Ferrous Crime Combating Committee (NFCCC), while the second initiative was the South African Chamber of Commerce (SACCI) Strategic workgroup meeting. Some of the role-players were invited to attend both sessions and it was anticipated that there could be a repetition of the abovementioned phenomena to discuss old issues once again and maybe also a clash of initiatives. SARPA was represented and took part in the discussions on behalf of their members at both these forums.
However, we were in for a big surprise when the representatives from the different organisations decided to “bury the hatchet” and tried to find real answers to current issues. Those present were encouraged to find ways of working together and bring back groups to the NFCCC meetings, that were excluded in the past due to various reasons. This was a real eye opener and seemingly indicates the start of a whole new era in the battle against non-ferrous thefts. What is significant is the fact that if we would be able to sustain this positive effort in the future, we would certainly be able to effectively minimize this threat within the next two years.
Since the coordination process with regard to non-ferrous thefts has been taken over by the SAPS Visible Policing Unit from the Organized Crime Unit, this was the first meeting where General Luke, the National Head of the Visible Policing Unit chaired the meeting. He subsequently introduced the new SAPS Strategy and gave role players on both sides of the spectrum (namely Law enforcement and Service Providers) the chance to give feedback regarding the current situation and actions planned to combat such threats.
SAPS representatives gave feedback regarding incidents in the different provinces, actions taken, arrests, training initiatives, import/export assessments, awareness programs, internal instructions, planned conference, storage of exhibits and other action plans. Service provider representatives gave feedback regarding incidents, hotspots and preventative actions.
The issue regarding the different initiatives that is taking place at the same time was successfully addressed, when it was unanimously agreed to exchange representatives between the different forums.
Another issue that has been creating lots of confusion, is the long awaited introduction of the new Second Hand Goods Act (Act 6 of 2009) It was therefore no surprise when we learned that the full implementation date of the Act has been moved from the anticipated 1 January commencement date, to April 2012.
In the meantime, the SAPS Law division has decided to “release” some specific Sections of the Law so long in two Proclamations, in order to address the most important issues right now namely: -
1) Section 16-20 - That deals with the accreditation of the Metal Merchant
2) Section 22 - Which stipulates that it is a criminal offence to supply false
information relating to the dealings in second goods.
3) Section 25 (b) - Which stipulates that it is a criminal offence to buy or be in
possession of “burnt copper” (where the cover has been burnt off)
4) Section 25 (c) - Which stipulates that sentences of up to 10 years could be given to
persons who contravenes Section 25 (b)
This initiative will most definitely “put the cat among the chickens”, as scrap yards will have to clean up their act very fast in this regard, otherwise they will be in big trouble. The sentences specified in the new law will perhaps make people think twice before they get involved in such criminal acts. This is the best news we have heard for some time and is definitely an early Christmas present for crime fighters in South Africa. It is however anticipated that we will not be experiencing the full impact of this new initiative immediately, as most of the larger Scrap yards close down during the festive season and a traditional decrease in thefts are usually experienced during this period.
On the operational side of the fight against what we in SARPA call “Utility metal thefts”, we are happy to report that everything is going according to plan. This issue has been included into our new Strategy and has been earmarked as one of our main Projects for 2012. SARPA in conjunction with SAPS and BAC are also in the process of reestablishing the Limpopo and Freestate NFCCC forums. The other forums are performing well with the Western Cape, Maphumalanga and Eastern Cape Forums leading the way. SARPA members are positively contributing in these forums on an ongoing basis. However, we would like to make a serious call to all Municipalities to send representatives to these forums, as it is necessary to join hands with SAPS and other role players and form a “united front” against copper thieves.
On a more strategic note, the SACCI workgroup focused on issues that could assist the operational forces to perform their tasks more effectively.
The main discussions included issues like the conducting of road shows, identification of a “Political Champion”, updating of the SAPS Data Management systems, assisting in the SAPS training processes and the SACCI Copper Theft Barometer.
It was therefore decided to: -
1) Approach the Minister of Public Enterprises to be the Champion
2) Ask organizations like Eskom, Telkom and Transnet to integrate their road shows with the other role players or to support their initiatives as well.
3) Make available venues and supporting resources to SAPS, in order to ensure that the training can be conducted as soon and effectively as possible.
4) To not include Municipal statistics in the Barometer (because information obtained from these entities were not reliable at this stage)
5) To approach a University to conduct a short study regarding the impact of non ferrous theft on the South African economy, with the main goal of compiling a report that could be utilized in court by “Expert witnesses” to obtain harsher sentences.
SARPA has in the meantime handed over all the training material that we have in the past developed “in-house” to the SAPS Legal Department. We have been utilizing it up to now to train policeman, judicial staff members and Municipal officials. This forms part of our effort to assist SAPS to complete their training manual that will be utilized to train Law Enforcement Officials throughout the country early in the New Year. The Technical Advisor has been nominated to take part in the SAPS development team and SARPA members countrywide will be asked to take part in the training sessions, to assist in teaching the SAPS members how to identify Municipal property.
With all these positive strategies and planned interactions envisaged for the new year, we cannot be wrong if we feel that 2012 will be the year that the copper thieves and those who buy the stolen items will meet their match once and for all.
By Rens Bindeman
SARPA Technical Advisor