Government is imposing a six-month ban on the export of copper and copper alloys in an effort to curb the theft of the chemical element and vandalism of public infrastructure in the process.

The move, which was contained in proposals issued for public comments in August, was announced by trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel on Wednesday morning.

“For copper and copper alloys, exports of copper waste and copper scrap will be temporarily prohibited for a six-month period.

“A permit system will apply to semi-finished copper exports. This will be administered by the International  Trade Administration Commission. After the initial six-month period, a licensing system will be put in place on all copper trading in SA,” Patel said.

The six-month ban is expected to allow the government to introduce other regulations aimed at addressing the issue of theft of infrastructure for sale.

Patel said the government had to consider between imposing a permanent ban or a time based prohibition.

“We chose the second because we recognise that there are legitimate traders. But at the same time the level of theft in public infrastructure is so expensive to the economy and it needed to be addressed immediately,” he said.

Patel said organisations that conducted research on the issue of scrap and theft of infrastructure recommended that the best way to stop it is to “dampen demand” on metal scrap.

“This would then disincentivise people from stealing copper cables and seeking to sell it. During that period we will be finalising a comprehensive system that will regulate trade in copper and scrap metal,” he said.

The ban will kick-in immediately when the new regulation gets gazetted which is expected to be on Wednesday.

In August, the government released the proposal on changing legislation regarding scrap metal which contained the temporal suspension of scrap.

In February, President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted the damage and cost to infrastructure that is caused by theft of metal for sale. He then committed government to take decisive steps to bring this to an end.

Researchers estimated that the cost of the theft exceeded R47bn annually. They did so by looking at the economic cost to Transnet, Eskom and Prasa as well as the reduced output of the mining industry.

That means the damage from theft cost the economy substantially more than R130m every day.

Patel said after six months, a licensing system will be put in place on all copper trading in SA.

“It is intended that sellers of copper waste and scrap metal will need to register under the Secondhand Goods Act, which is administered by the minister of police. In order to trade in copper waste and scrap metal, applicants will need to show, tax clearance and dealers will be required to supply purchase and sales information to a centralized database.

“Registered buyers will only be allowed to buy from registered sellers. This means that incidental sales of copper waste, scrap, semi-finished products, and sales by unregistered waste pickers will not be allowed,” he said.


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