28 September 2021

Creating an Integrated Copper Theft Prevention Strategy for South Africa

Submitted by Mitch Mitchell
Creating an Integrated Copper Theft Prevention Strategy for South Africa

The way things are

At the moment copper theft is rampant in South Africa. Theft occurs widely and constantly and is costing the country a large fortune. But it gets worse: green energy generation will force us to use more copper. Conventional power generation uses .5 ton of copper per megawatt while wind power generation uses 3.6 ton per megawatt (7 times more copper) and solar power generation uses 4.5 ton per megawatt (9 times more copper) per megawatt. Compounding that, a 10 million ton pa shortage is projected in 20281. We are just not mining copper fast enough and the ore quality is not as good as it used to be. (1)

Carte Blanche has shown the illegal export of copper from South Africa to be R440m every month, a total of : R4.8b every year. This translates to an effective loss of R187b per year and has reduced our GDP growth by in 2020 by 37%.But there is more: the copper price is approaching $10,000 per ton (2) and unemployment is rife. 50% of youth are unemployed and 60% of women are unemployed – and this was before COVID-19. 90% of those in matric at the moment won’t get jobs when they finish school. Unemployment, the high copper price and copper demand will continue conspire to rapidly increase cable theft in South Africa – and cause severe development problems for all of us.

Something has to be done.

The current approach

The current approach to cable theft prevention is a standard one: “my company is the best and we will solve all your problems.” This, of course, is not true. To solve this massive problem requires cooperation to create a combined, holistic solution: Government and Industry combining the best South Africa has to offer to create a uniquely South African solution that works for us.

Hindrances to an Integrated solution

This sounds easy, but it is not. There are many vested interests and wheels within wheels.

  • Security companies benefit from cable theft because it keeps security services in demand – and security companies want to be hired
  • Cable manufacturing companies benefit from cable theft because stolen cable needs to be replaced – and cable companies want to sell more cable
  • Theft solution companies benefit from cable theft because more theft makes our solutions more urgent – and we want to sell our solutions
  • Corrupt officials benefit from cable theft because they want theft to continue to let the money keep rolling in

Officials will only implement protection if directly instructed because they are unwilling to make the hard decisions - and cable is often left unprotected. Generally, budgets are limited, so they rather replace than protect cables: so they refuse to pay a little now and are forced to pay much more later.

And all the while South Africa groans under the burden.

Creating a holistic Solution

To efficiently curb cable theft this 7 step approach may be considered:

  1. Physically protect electrical cables. Make it as difficult as possible to steal them.
  2. Indelibly mark the cables so they cannot be sold. Ensure that marking method is resistant to being burnt, granulated and smelting.
  3. As far as possible – and especially at theft hotspots - use technology to monitor the cables. Use video and tamper reporting to make it as difficult possible to steal copper cables.
  4. Employ rapid response teams. If the cable theft is in progress, deploy the rapid response units
  5. Destroy the illegal copper resale market. Make the risk to sell or buy stolen copper to high.
  6. Restrict copper exports. Make it impossible to export copper without permit and absolute proof of origin.
  7. Severely punish corrupt officials. Make copper corruption punishment and copper theft sentences the same.

How it could work

In order to create a solution both Government and business will have to roll up their sleeves. A Public Private Partnership could be considered as a vehicle for this. Best-of-breed South African solutions and intellectual property could then be identified and combined.

Laws could enforce top-down protection across the board to protect cables. The PPP could provide cable theft protection services to Government, State Owned Enterprises and municipalities. In addition, the PPP could provide protection services to neighbouring countries which also suffer from cable theft.


Advantages to Government would include:

  1. The best technologies would be combined to create a world-class, South African protection solution
  2. This would be a real solution – not a Band-Aid approach
  3. Centralised management would allow a top-down approach
  4. Centralised standards would ensure the best approach and methodology
  5. Costs would be reduced

Advantages to Industry would include:

  1. Increased market penetration
  2. National and regional product distribution
  3. A real chance to make a lasting difference

It is time to employ a radical solution to the cable theft disease – and the only option is amputation.

Unless we do something about it now, the cable theft problem will ensure that our plans for developing South Africa remain just that – plans. 

1. http://www.visualcapitalist.com/the-looming-copper-supply-crunch/

2. https://markets.businessinsider.com/commodities/copper-price

CableDNA is an electrical cable theft prevention company based in South Africa. www.cabledna.co.za