The National Commissioner of the South African Police Service, General Khehla Sitole has welcomed the accumulative 1 250-year sentence handed down to five cable thieves by the Western Cape High Court on 19 February 2021.

The five thieves, including two who perished during the course of the trial, were arrested for theft of Eskom and Telkom infrastructure valued at over R1,8 million.

All seven accused, aged between 30 and 53 years, pleaded not guilty. However, Kwame Harrison (deceased), Thomas Osei, Sipho Bila, Nhlanganiso Habe (deceased), Francisco Mandinde, David September and Anthony Chauke were found guilty on:
* two counts of racketeering
* 18 counts of fraud
* 15 counts of theft
* six alternative counts of tampering with, removing, or destroying essential infrastructure
15 counts of money laundering.
The Namaqualand area saw a rapid spike in theft of Telkom copper wire in 2015. The SAPS Management allocated all such cases to Detective/Lieutenant Colonel Nico Maree, stationed in Kakamas, to investigate. The investigation challenges Lt Col Maree as most of these thefts occurred at night in different rural areas, which were cut off from communicating with the rest of the country.

The seasoned police officer with 23 years’ investigative experience changed strategies and started an integrated multidisciplinary team comprising analysts from Gauteng, border security intelligence members, the National Prosecuting Authority in Cape Town, and Telkom investigators.

The team’s breakthrough came after vigilant members on patrol stopped and searched a suspicious vehicle carrying copper cables in Kammieskroon. The suspects fled the scene on foot and left their loot and some of their personal belongings, which were valuable evidence.

In 2016, investigations led to De Doorns, Vredenburg and Langebaan where the police discovered that the suspects were originally from Mfuleni and had also been stealing Eskom copper wires.

The first two accused were arrested in Cape Town in November 2016, after four transactions of undercover members selling copper cables to two Ghanaians, Harrison and Osei. Their accomplices were captured soon thereafter.

The trial was moved from the Northern Cape to Cape Town, where all the accused were subsequently found guilty on 18 August 2020. They were sentenced on 12 February 2021 as follows:

* Osei will spend an effective 650 years in prison
* Mozambican nationals, Bila and Mandinde, each received 225 year’s imprisonment
* Mozambican national, September was given 75 years in prison
* South African, Chauke was sentenced to 75 years imprisonment.

Both rail and communication cable theft has caused huge economic loss to the country. The management of the SAPS hopes that these lengthy sentences will deter would-be cable thieves.

Safeguarding essential infrastructure that benefits us all is a shared responsibility. Communities located near such infrastructure are urged to take a stand, be vigilant and work with the police to bring perpetrators to account.

This conviction and lengthy sentence given to these convicted cable thieves is indicative of law enforcement’s commitment to root out the destruction of essential property by charging perpetrators under the Criminal Matters Amendment Act with the ultimate imprisonment that can be up to 30 years or a fine of up to R100 million.

Members of the community with any information on people tampering with any essential infrastructure may report to our Crime Stop Number 08600 10111