Damage to essential infastructure

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 – there are frequent 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 in March 2019 that cable theft cost the South African economy R7 billion.5

Which is why, on 1 June 2016, the Criminal Matters Amendment Act 2015 came into force.

‘Essential infrastructure’ means any installation, structure, facility or system which, if damaged, lost or tampered with, could interfere with the provision of energy, transport, water, sanitation and communication to the public.

  1. If you know, or you should reasonably suspect that something is this ‘essential infrastructure’ you commit a criminal offence if you:
    • tamper with it;6
    • destroy; or
    • damage it.7
  2. It is also an offence to collude with, or assist another person in any such activity.8

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.


  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’. 


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

  7. Section 3(1)(a). 

  8. Section 3(1)(b).