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Long jail terms will make cable thieves think twice

27 May 2016 - 09:12 By The Times Editorial

As from next week, anyone found with stolen copper wire can expect to be sentenced to anywhere between three and 30 years in prison. The government hopes that the new law will curtail the disruption of vital services to communities and limit the destruction of infrastructure and the need to repair it.On June 1, the Criminal Matters Amendment Act comes into force. It imposes stringent sentencing and bail conditions for people who damage infrastructure that provides essential services such as transport, power, water and communications.Previously, cable theft was tried under laws relating to malicious damage to property and incurred only minor penalties.It costs millions to replace stolen copper - Eskom has estimated that the country has spent at least R4-billion replacing stolen cable. We are told that the City of Cape Town had to spend R22-million to replace damaged water and sanitation installations and almost R14-million to repair electricity infrastructure damaged by vandals and thieves.Johannesburg and other metros have been stripped of much of their copper and aluminium.As a result, walking across some bridges in Johannesburg has become a potentially fatal activity because the railings are missing. Drain covers are stolen every day.Trains have had to stop running because of cable theft, not only preventing thousands of commuters from reaching work but costing the government a fortune to repair the system.Pietman Roos, a senior consultant for Instinctif Partners, which gives advice on public affairs, welcomed the new law, saying small fines were a poor deterrent given the cost of cable theft to the economy.He noted that the theft of R50 of copper could cost the economy R20-million.We welcome the new law but hope the state and politicians will not use it to drive their own political agendas ...

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