EEC spends millions of Emalangeni replacing stolen copper.Criminals are able to easily conduct their black-market businesses because it’s cheap to transform the metals
Mbabane-There is a thriving business on the black market for the sale of copper. Since the beginning of the unrest in June 2021 the incidents of infrastructure vandalism in the form of copper theft have increased. This is the observation of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Eswatini Electricity Company ‘s (EEC), Ernest Mkhonta.
In a statement, the EEC CEO said “copper theft destabilizes operations that affect many economic activities, especially the provision of essential services such as communications services, utilities (electricity, water) as well as transport like railway infrastructure. The EEC, among other companies, have reportedly spent millions of Emalangeni in replacing stolen copper.”
During the tariff review public hearings Mkhonta indicated that among the reasons for the request for a tariff increase this year is the fluctuation in the price of metals such as steel, and copper which are some of the commodities that are used as an input during the production of electricity.
In an attempt to control infrastructure vandalism an anonymous whistleblowing line has been established, through which whistle-blowers can report any misconduct that will impact the sustainability of the electricity supply. Members of the public are rewarded in instances where assets are recovered or corrective action like disciplinary sanctions or arrests are made.
The Royal Eswatini Police Services are now working closely with EEC and other organizations that have been impacted by infrastructure vandalism of this nature such as the Eswatini Post and Telecommunications Corporation to deal with this problem.
The Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation (SARPCCO) along with other utilities in the SADC region have also been involved in the fight to combat this crime.
Stolen copper, steel and other metals go through several processes and are mainly exported across borders as scrap metal. Scrap metal has been a legitimate trade in the South Africa, making it difficult to track the illegal trade and exports. Criminals are able to easily conduct their black-market businesses because it’s cheap to import furnaces to transform the metals.
In November 2022, the South African government took stringent decision to ban trade in scrap metal in a bid to address the damage to public infrastructure and the economy after seeking extensive legal opinion. Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele said “South Africa will also engage with the Southern African Development Community, African Union and the Southern African Customs Union to ensure a coordinated approach to fight this crime collectively as a region.”
The government is hoping that a six-month ban on the export of scrap and waste metal will cut down on the theft of copper cables, which has contributed to power outages and left trains stranded.
Research has found that the export of metal provides a crucial monetisation channel for criminals.