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Cable thief gangs haunt mines in Mpumalanga

Explosion at Gloria Coal Mine leaves 22 suspected cable thieves trapped underground.

Last week a gang of more than 40 suspected cable thieves overwhelmed security guards and made their way down the 127 metre shaft where they set about cutting copper cable underground.

They previously cut the main power supply to the mine, so the giant fans blowing air into the underground working areas were disabled. This fatal mistake allowed methane gas to accumulate, resulting in an explosion that has trapped 22 miners and hindered rescue efforts due to the continued presence of poisonous carbon monoxide. Five bodies have since been recovered, and one person was rescued alive.

Gloria Coal Mine is one of the former Gupta-owned mines now under business rescue. This was no isolated hit by the gang, says the business rescue practitioner, Mike Elliot. “Several mines in the area have been targeted by copper theft gangs, including Optimum Coal Mine.”

Last year Optimum, another formerly Gupta-owned mine now in business rescue, was temporarily disabled when overhead cables supplying power to trains transporting coal from the mine were cut. Optimum had to replace the cables at a cost of more than R3 million. On another occasion, dragline cables on coal excavators were cut up for sale on the black market. Each time the gangs hit a coal mine in Mpumalanga, production is disrupted. Louis Klopper, business rescue representative for Optimum Coal Mine, says the mines are surrounded by farms, making it easy for thieves to disappear once the police are called.

What is unusual about the Mpumalanga cable thieves is their level of organisation.

Mine security poses no resistance to a gang of 40 or more thieves wielding guns and clubs.

Cable theft has become increasingly sophisticated, and mines are plumb targets given the tonnage of cable and scrap metal that a single hit can yield.

The scale of vandalism and theft at Gloria, reckoned to be costing the mine around R100 million, will put it out of operation for several weeks. Gloria mine has been hit by gangs operating in this area several times. This time they cut the main overhead power cables, stripped the main transformers on the surface, cut the buzz bars from the mine switchgear and cut cables from the windings.

“Once we can connect power cables to the fans, we will be able to resume rescue efforts,” adds Elliot. This will flush poisonous gases from the underground working areas, and allow rescue workers to access the area where the explosion occurred in their search for any survivors.

An easy sell

Stolen copper reportedly fetches about R70 per kilogram on the black market, and getting rid of it seems to pose no problem to the thieves. Recent amendments to the Second Hand Goods Act were intended to tighten regulation of second hand goods dealers, and obliges them to maintain detailed registers of clients. If a dealer has reasonable suspicion they are being offered stolen goods, or the goods have been tampered with, they are required to notify the police.

Elliot says the rampant cable theft among coal mines in Mpumalanga is proof that the law is inadequate. “The thieves are able to sell the stolen cable to scrap merchants, so the law is being bypassed. It needs much stronger enforcement before we see an improvement in the situation.”

Export regulations have also been amended to prevent the export of stolen scrap metal, but these are also being flouted.

Rescue efforts were hampered at Gloria mine as unpaid mine workers prevented rescue workers from reaching the site of the explosion. Workers last received payment in October, but an announcement regarding the sale of the mines under business rescue is expected next week. Gloria mine is now under heavy police guard.

Read: Probe into illegal miners blast risk under City of Gold

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Zimbabweans, who else?

Almost right, but according to radio reports illegal invaders from Lesotho. Let the Lesotho authorities and taxpayers pay for the rescue.

The cable thieves are innovative entrepreneurs who exploit the implosion of law and order to arbitrage the value of cable and the value of copper by mining copper at a coal mine.

Government policy cannot create entrepreneurship. Government policy creates an environment that enables entrepreneurship. Government policy directs and channels the development of entrepreneurs. ANC policies enable entrepreneurship in the criminal field because ANC politicians are criminals. The cable thieves are the children of the socialist ANC economic policies. The copper cables are their share of BEE.

If they are left underground then this could be the lesson for those above ground to stop stealing the country’s infrastructure. Only rough and hard decisions is now going to deal with those taking what does not belong to them.

Treat this as an experiment and lets see where this goes.

Why didn’t these sophisticated criminals take a canary with them?

They ate the canary …

At least if you leave them underground it saves them burial costs,no police investigation another saving. Let them stay underground that is their preference.

Now read: Exploration dies in SA while booming elsewhere in Africa.

Laws are not inadequate, law enforcement is. You need to come down on any illegal activity like a ton of bricks. If someone steals a candy bar, let them sit for 6 months. Instil the fear of death into anyone willing to break the law. No more leniency!

I hope they’re not dead. Let them die a slow and painful death underground. No trial, no waste of tax money.

Julle wil mos.

so rescue squads paid for by my tax must rescue thieves. Sorry I don’t get it.

This is like being caught in the act, the buzzer at the entrance to the shop catching the shop lifter.

The mine’s very own security system, three cheers for innovation!!!!!!

Take NO prisoners.

What I would like to know is: To who is the stolen cable sold to – those people are creating the market for buying stolen cables, melt it up and sell it to the so called “innocent” scrap dealers. the government is too useless to brake the chain, without taking into account how much they are losing in just vat due to the stealing of metal, diamonds, gold etc etc.(the zama zama action boils down to exactly the same outcome) The fact that the anc, the police and other government controlling bodies are sitting like a lame duck, the thieves are equipped with firearms like ak47s(ak47 bullets just dont pop-up in the veldt) the question arises:”who are all involved in the plundering?” especially if the government can’t even see the full picture of the damaged done to the country in tax terms and gpd% for just 1 year.

It should be simple enough to require metal dealers to quarantine new stock the way pawn shops do, plus they must be compelled to pay only via EFT.

What is doubly annoying is that if people steal a 100m of 250A 4core armored cable, they get a few thousand runts for the copper. The cost of the cable is multiples of the copper. It’s like stealing a car, destroying most of it in order to sell the gearbox.

These people are like a cancer, or rust.

Anyone involved in rescuing these criminal scum is guilty of treason. The rescuers are also stealing from every honest hardworking South African. We don’t want to waste our lives at work so you can throw our tax money down a mine shaft.

I’m no expert on policing but if you know there is theft and where the theft is occurring apprehending the thieves should be ‘doable’. But not in this country, basically thieves have to walk into the police station and give themselves up to be apprehended. Alternatively, the police can always post a sign saying ‘High cable theft area’ to warn locals, that always helps!

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