The scourge of cable theft and infrastructure sabotage is upon us. Just when we are still battling cash-in-transit and ATM bombing syndicates, another calamity has befallen us - one with far-reaching socio-economic and political implications!
Cable theft experienced across the country has reached the point where drastic measures are required, from law enforcement and policy formulation perspective. Infrastructure related-crimes and sabotage have recently grown to pandemic proportions.
This includes copper cable theft; electricity poles and battery theft from telecommunications base stations and vandalism and malicious damage to property. The lackadaisical approach to protecting critical infrastructure has seen cable theft mutating from petty crime into a lucrative international organised crime enterprise.
As it stands, it would take an arm and a leg to counter what has now become multinational criminal endeavour.
Needless to state that critical infrastructure is a catalyst for economic growth. It is the cornerstone of life and livelihoods. Therefore, an attack of this infrastructure, should be interpreted as an unprovoked assault of national security.
This crime, carries the potential to bring the entire nation on its knees in a matter of seconds. It hampers provision of even the most basic essential services to industries and communities. It is actually, the worst form of terrorism. Organised gangs plunder kilometres of cable; the country’s lifelines, and sell it as scrap metal.
These copper thieves have an unlimited appetite as copper is stolen from basins, bearings, taps, window frames, drain covers, solar panels, water meters, overhead lines, substations, signal cables, underground cables, transformers, to railway carriages.
In fact, absolutely anything that has copper in it is stolen. Every day the safety of the communities is clearly at risk as the thieves more brazenly feed the general scrap metal industry’s demand for profit.
If the recent Mokolodi incident where they downed the entire power supply infrastructure is anything to go by, it is clear that these syndicates are sophisticated. They probably use state-of-the-art equipment and also employ specialists for their own safety and security.
It is also clear that this crime of cable theft is a very broad industry with thieves ranging from the subsistence criminals to the very advanced syndicate-driven operators. The consistently high price of copper makes it a valuable commodity for illicit business, and what drives the price up is massive demand in urbanising economies are voracious consumers of copper.
Botswana is proving to be an easy target for the asset stripping of copper infrastructure on an industrial scale. The question then arises on the role of scrap metal industry in this criminality.
Some commentators are even suggesting that the scrap metal industry is in cahoots with the cable and copper syndicates, given the rate of theft and destruction of infrastructure that is ravaging critical sectors of Botswana’s economy.
Some are even calling for scrap trading to be banned in our country.
What is also becoming apparent is that, ‘moles’ of these criminal syndicates are embedded within telecoms and electricity sector and provide thieves with an organised capacity exploiting the same sources of information that security personnel would use to apprehend criminals.
Criminal ‘moles’ are thus able to infiltrate both the security divisions and the general work force, even targeting management positions to acquire information about the security measurements that were used and the weak points in the security procedures.
Therefore, a sophisticated, yet integrated approach is necessary to mitigate this multi-faceted crime. What appears frustrating, is that we know how the nation is being plundered, but we seem unable to counter the threat within the current security configurations and resources.
We seem to have no capacity to proactively mitigate the threat and to identify the criminals.