SAPS arrests 19 following spate of ferrochrome-in-transit theft in Mpumalanga

NINETEEN people have been arrested by the South African Police Services following a spate of incidents of theft of ferrochrome en route from the mines in Mpumlanga province destined for export, said Transnet Freight Rail (TFR).

The joint response between SAPS and TFR was “intelligence driven” and involved raids on specific houses located in informal settlements near where the thefts were perpetrated, the state-owned freight and logistics company said.

TFR said it had recently witnessed a phenomenon where trains in motion are blocked with objects on the track. The incidents take place close to informal settlements around the railway track, it said.

Following the arrests, stolen goods were recovered from two facilities. “We cannot tolerate these incidents and hope that the criminal justice system will show no mercy to such economic crimes irrespective of who the perpetrator is,” said TFR.

TFR said on September 8 that it had repaired damage related to cable theft and vandalism on the North Corridor – the rail route that carries South Africa’s coal exports. This followed a 15-hour interruption to services related to two incidents of theft.

Approximately 1,500 km of cable was stolen in the financial year ending March 2022. The net financial impact of this is approximately R4.1bn which includes operational disruptions, security costs, remediation and lost opportunity of foreign direct earnings.

Mines and energy minister Gwede Mantashe yesterday announced the creation of a “specialised police unit” that would draw on several departmental skills aimed at stamping out illegal mining and incidents such as cable theft, as well as acts of vandalism recently reported by Eskom, the power utility.

“It is our considered view that illegal mining is a criminal activity which must be dealt with within the prescripts of the law,” said Mantashe in a speech to Parliament. “Hence, we have been engaging with the Ministry of Police to establish a specialised police unit to deal with this criminal activity,” he said.

The unit is expected to be “multi-disciplinary” and will draw from skills in other departments, he said. “It will need to have the ability to detect, combat and investigate these crimes.”

SAPS used to have a diamonds, gold, and precious stones unit aimed specifically at tackling organised crime in the country’s minerals sector until it was closed by former police commissioner, the late Jackie Selebi. The South African Policing Union (SAPU) called for its reinstatment last month.

Illegal mining was “an existential threat” to the mining sector, Mantashe said.