Call to increase security at ports to stop illegal export of scrap metal

19 May 2015

News24, 19 May 2015
By Staff Reporter

INVESTIGATORS probing the lucrative cable and metal theft cartels in South Africa believe the illegal industry can be brought to its knees by increasing security at all ports of entry.

The stolen metal snoops believe large amounts of scrap metal are being illegally exported without being offered to local foundries, as is required by a scrap metal policy gazetted in September 2013.

This policy requires scrap dealers to offer their booty to local foundries first, but at a price that is at least 20% less than that obtained exporting to international markets.

The minster of Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel last week called for the tightening of laws in a bid to root out cable theft, which he singled out as a massive threat to the country’s proposed trillion-rand infrastructure build programme.

Jan Wolmarans of Combined Private Investigations, a firm employed by several national parastatals, metropolesitans and private businesses, said the key to stopping the trade in stolen metals was to “plug the end of the funnel”.

“There are sufficient laws and sentencing options in place, but we now need to make it harder for the product to leave the country by introducing a multiple checking system. Hardly a fraction of the containers passing through our ports are properly checked. We need to inspect all of them,” said Wolmarans.

He said Zambia has a seven-stage check process and this example should be scrutinised and implemented.

Lengthy prison sentences can be secured for offenders, providing that the National Prosecuting Authority is briefed on the damage or risk caused to industry, rather than the cost of the item stolen.

“The illegal exports are crippling the economy and it is being driven by just over 20 exporters,” said Wolmarans.

Foster Mohale, spokesperson for the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa (ITAC), which manages the export of scrap metal, said they have a “price preference rate” in place.

Steel, aluminium and other types of scrap metals including copper must be offered first to local foundries at 30%, 25% and 20% below the published international benchmark price respectively.

But he said it is not their responsibility to combat the illegal exporting of metal.

“Cable theft is a criminal activity falling under the ambit of the SAPS. Minister Patel indicated [his department is] working closely with the Justice Department to amend and draft various pieces of legislation.

“These will expand the powers of the state to act against cable and metal theft,” said Hector Molale, spokesperson for Pietermaritzburg-based aluminium giant Hulamin, adding access to local scrap is necessary for “business continuity”.

“The unavailability of cheap scrap locally, coupled with other high cost inputs such as energy, has forced a lot of foundries to shut and some to become borderline enterprises.

“Although Hulamin is not a foundry, locally available scrap is a huge enabler for business continuity,” he said.

Molale said cable theft is a “nuisance” and not only robs the country of economic activity, but also affects essential services.

“There should be stiffer penalties for this activity as it is tantamount to economic sabotage.”

We now need to make it harder for the product to leave the country by introducing a multiple checking system.