Scrapyard in Vaal hides biggest illegal copper haul

Police recovered a reported 9 tons of stolen copper cable in Vanderbijlpark, an industrial town with approximately 95 000 inhabitants, situated on the Vaal River in the south of Gauteng province, in what is believed to be the single biggest strike of its kind against illegal copper merchants to date in South Africa, writes Craig Kotze of Vaalweekblad.

Police could not immediately confirm the exact weight of the recovered metal as it was still being weighed at time of publication. A 43-year-old scrapyard manager was arrested during the operation and the scrapyard involved shut down.

If the 9 ton haul is confirmed, it would probably be record-breaking in terms of seized illegal copper in one operation in South Africa, said security analysts.

The massive haul of shredded copper is from municipal infrastructure – currently being continuously plundered by cable thieves – and some of South Africa’s foremost corporations such as ArcelorMittal, Eskom and Telkom.

Copper cable theft from Eskom especially has paralysed South Africa economically and created an ongoing national crisis for Government and business countrywide.

The Vaal has in recent years emerged as the nexus of the illegal copper trade regarding theft, warehousing and distribution of the sought-after metal, whose ultimate destination is China, which is sucking up the metal from all parts of the globe, say intelligence experts.

The illegal copper trade has also become intertwined at many levels with the illegal gold or artisanal mining industry linked to Zama Zamas, again due to the centrality of the Vaal region and access to transport networks.

The Vanderbijlpark raid captured the manager of the scrapyard, which was closed by Police, but the scrapyard has not been named in official Police communication. The 43-year-old man is expected to appear in court soon.

The Police operation, conducted in total secrecy and with military precision, found the shredded copper in black bags on the premises.

The operation was carried out by a number of Police units including the newly-established Essential Infrastructure Task Team (EITT) also based in Vaal.

The value of the recovered copper is estimated at R1.3 million on the black market, but only a fraction of what it will cost to replace by municipalities and companies, possibly running close to R100 million all costs included, say analysts.