Cape Town Copperheads recover more than 1.7 tons of stolen metal

The City of Cape Town recovered more than 1 700 kilograms of stolen metal between July 2023 and March 2024.

The City’s Metals Theft Unit (MTU), also known as the Copperheads, recovered more than 53 000 metres of stolen cabling. The unit made 115 arrests and secured a 12-year prison sentence for one metal thief.

In April, the City replaced 1 120 street lights, while poles in some areas were stolen almost immediately after being replaced. City policing operations responded to 70% more metal theft complaints than last year as communities reported more incidents.

In 2023/24, the City received 519 reports of metal theft from the public, compared to 304 in 2022/23.

Over the past nine months, officials inspected 1 715 scrapyards and bucket shops and conducted 2 145 hotspot patrols. A total of 10 vehicles were impounded and 2 382 fines were issued for by-law transgressions.

“Our message to metal thieves is simple: Don’t steal cable, we will catch you. Last night in Mitchells Plain, I was pleased to see residents enthusiastically providing our metal theft officers with tip-offs of suspected stolen cable locations,” says Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis.

“We also witnessed our officers bust three suspects in the act of burning cables from a nearby traffic light. Those stealing cable should also know that the City’s new Eye-in-the-sky is now watching and recording hotspots, including with infrared cameras at night.”

Alderman JP Smith, the City’s Mayco member for safety and security, says the ‘confiscations are an indication that we are not dealing with just small operators.’

“In fact, some suspects are being caught with considerable amounts of stolen goods, and that leads to bigger questions about the level of organisation involved, but also the continued vulnerability of critical infrastructure,” he added.

“The City is throwing many resources at this problem, but we can’t do it alone. Something has got to give at a national level, to tighten the screws on cable thieves, and take the shine out of the illicit scrap metal trade.”

The City increased the number of staff attached to the MTU and invested in technology to improve detection and responses to cable theft.

During April, 39 staff members attended a sensitising information session which focused on essential infrastructure crimes, presented by the Southern Africa Revenue Protection Association.

The session followed a brainstorming workshop with the Copperheads to explore and identify innovation and optimal effectiveness in combatting metal theft and damage to essential infrastructure, according to a statement.