Cable Theft

Copper is a particularly good metal to use in electrical cabling. That is, mostly, because it is the second best conductor of electricity1 (next to silver, amongst common metals and alloys), it has a high melting point,2 is malleable, and is fairly readily available. It is, perhaps as a result, a very valuable commodity. From a price of R20 000 per metric tonne in 2004, by February 2015 it peaked at over R70 000 per tonne.3

The problem is that copper cabling can easily be stolen – not a week goes by without reports in South African media of cable theft. This is not a happy state of affairs – essential services provided by Eskom and Transnet are disrupted, whilst the loot gets exported to countries such as China and India.4 It was estimated that, in 2012, the scourge cost the South African economy R5 billion.5

Which is why, on 1 June 2016, the Criminal Matters Amendment Act 20156 came into force.

  1. The Act makes it a criminal offence to:7

    • tamper with;8
    • destroy; or
    • damage

    what is called ‘essential infrastructure’.9 10

  2. It is also an offence to collude with, or assist another person in any such activity.11

Now, listen up. The legislature is not playing games: upon conviction, you can be imprisoned for up to 30 years; in the case of a corporate body, it can be fined up to R100 million.

And it is not only cable theft that is in issue – any ‘essential infrastructure’ is what Government aims to protect.


  2. 1083°Celsius; Ibid. 

  3. See the paper ‘Fighting the Battle of Copper Theft’ published by Traceability Solutions on its website The paper cites as its source. 

  4. – ‘SA now leading exporter of cable copper’. 

  5. Ibid. 

  6. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 18 of 2015. 

  7. If you know, or ought reasonably to know, or suspect that an essential infrastructure is in question. 

  8. This means, amongst other things, to alter, cut, disturb, interfere with, interrupt, manipulate, obstruct, remove or uproot by any means, method or device. 

  9. This is any installation, structure, facility or system, whether publicly or privately owned, the loss or damage of or the tampering with, which may interfere with the provision or distribution of a basic service to the public. A ‘basic service’ means a service, provided by the public or private sector, relating to energy, transport, water, sanitation and communication, the interference with which may prejudice the livelihood, well-being, daily operations or economic activity of the public – see section 1 of the Act. 

  10. Section 3(1)(a). 

  11. Section 3(1)(b).