Harsh penalties for SA cable thieves


South Africa’s new Second-Hand Goods Act will come into law from 1 April and allows the state to jail people who steal and trade in stolen copper cables, for up to 10 years.

The implementation of the new law was announced last week by police minister Nathi Mthethwa. The law replaces the outdated Second-Hand Goods Act, which dates back to 1955, and covers a range of activities from the traditional corner pawn shop to large metal recyclers.
“I have instructed the SAPS management to ensure the Second-Hand Goods Act, which seeks to regulate second-hand goods dealers and recyclers and will be an important tool in the effort to clamp down on stolen goods, is implemented by April this year, by means of a phased approach,” said Mthethwa in a Parliamentary reply.

In a statement released by the South African Police Service, the minister is quoted as saying that people who deal in, or are in possession of, non-ferrous cable with a burnt cover are committing an offence, unless they can provide the police with a reasonable explanation for the burnt cover.
“This offence too gives a court the power to sentence copper thieves and unscrupulous scrap dealers to imprisonment for a period of 10 years. We, therefore, believe this legislation will assist in combating both copper and property crimes,” said Mthethwa.

In January, the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (SACCI’s) copper theft barometer indicated that incidents of copper theft dropped 17.4% last year.

SACCI says the barometer, which measures and monitors copper cable theft in SA, on a monthly basis, registered R214 million in losses incurred through copper theft in 2011, down R45 million from 2010.

According to the statement, some sections of the Act were implemented in December and January, which provide for accreditation of Second-Hand Goods Dealers’ Associations, the regulation of suspicious transactions and making it a crime to possess, acquire or dispose of controlled metal cable such as copper.

The Regulation for Dealers and Recyclers will be wrapped up by April, after which designated second-hand goods police officers will be trained.

The Act requires all dealers in second-hand goods to report all suspicious transactions where the seller attempts to provide false particulars or where the goods are suspected to be stolen or tampered with to the police.

Second-hand goods dealers and pawnbrokers will have to take reasonable steps to ensure they do not buy stolen goods or goods that have been tampered with. Unscrupulous dealers face jail time of up to a decade.