ATC150825 : Report of the Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation on Public Hearings on Theft and Vandalism of Water Infrastructure, dated 19 August 2015

Water and Sanitation


1. Background and Objectives of Public Hearings


Currently, a number of countries are grappling with water resources management at a time of enormous pressures on water resources. This is further compounded in many developing countries by the need for the efficient and sustainable use of water for economic growth and social equity, the fair allocation of water to users, the decentralised and participatory governance of water to users, and dealing with threats to water resources. Business, governments and policy makers are grappling with issues on how to not only increase the supply but also to improve the productivity of current resources. South Africa too faces a number of complex challenges: the most significant of these relate to poverty, access to water, impact of the economy on water, re-use of water, water demand management, water ‘wars’, allocation strategies, impact of water quality and public participation in the water sector. 


In addition to the above challenges, South Africa currently faces another critical challenge, that of vandalism and theft of water infrastructure, as well as theft of electrical copper cables. Energy and water generation are an integral part in ensuring the sustainable management of water supply and demand.  The importance of the link between water and electricity was evidenced recently in September and October 2014 in parts of Gauteng, when hundreds of residents in South Africa went without water for almost two weeks. The theft of cables at Palmiet pump station was highlighted as a main contributor towards the water shortage experienced within the greater Gauteng province. Copper cables from an Eskom power station in Alrode had been stolen, which led to the shortages, as the substation supplies power to the pump station.


Whilst the Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation (the Portfolio Committee) acknowledged the action taken by Rand Water as well as the municipalities in Gauteng to supply water tanks in areas where shortages were being experienced, the Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation stressed the importance of finding solutions to the current challenge. One of the mechanisms by which the Portfolio Committee will attempt to address the problems is to continue to engage with the Department of Water and Sanitation, the South African Police Services, as well as affected municipalities. 


To broaden the insights and solutions to the increased and new challenge to the water sector, the Portfolio Committee held public hearings with affected and interested stakeholders on finding solutions to address vandalism and theft of water infrastructure in South Africa.  As part of engaging with the issues of vandalism and theft of water infrastructure, the Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation, through its public hearings, needed to ascertain the extent to which affected and interested stakeholders can address the following:


  • Whether and why South Africa needs a water plan that takes into account ageing energy and water infrastructure;
  • The financial and economic model required to create synergies between institutions responsible for energy and those responsible for water; and
  • Solutions to address vandalism and theft of water infrastructure in South Africa.


Members of the Portfolio Committee that attended the public hearings included Mr M Johnson (Chairperson) (ANC); Ms J Maluleke (ANC); Ms ZBN Balindlela (DA); Mr LJ Basson (DA); and Mr AM Mpontshane (IFP).


Parliamentary staff supporting the Portfolio Committee included Ms M Solomons (Secretary); Ms S Dawood (Content Advisor); Mr T Manungfula (Researcher) and Ms Z Kula (Assistant).


Stakeholders and participants at the public hearings included Mr A Singh (Deputy Director General) (DDG); Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS); Ms Z Mathe (DDG) (DWS);  Ms R Moloto (Director: Corporate Services) (DWS); Ms Z Moon (Parliamentary Liaison Officer) (PLO) (DWS); Ms J Dladla (PLO) (DWS); Ms T Norushe (Researcher) (DWS); Mr V Majgen (Division: Visible Police)  from South African Police Services (SAPS); Mr C Johnson (Division :Detective Services) (SAPS); Mr KJ Sithole (Deputy National Commissioner) (SAPS); Mr AJ Botha, (Commander: Public Order) (SAPS); Councillor T Ramaramela (South African Local Government Association (SALGA); Mr W Moraka (Water Specialist) (SALGA); Ms N Xali (Parliamentary Coordinator) (SALGA); Mr M Parks, Parliamentary Officer, (Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU); Mr SP Bunker, ADS Solutions; Mr A Bunker, ADS Solutions; Mr A Aifeld, (Parliamentary Liaison Officer), SASOL; Mr M. Ginster, SASOL; Mr J Thyne, SASOL; and Mr P.M. Seane (Policy Advisor), SASOL.


This report provides an overview of the submissions, discussions and analysis on the public hearings on theft and vandalism of water infrastructure, held on 24 November 2014 at Good Hope Chambers, Parliament of the Republic of South Africa.


2. Welcome and introduction by Chairperson, Mr M Johnson


The Chairperson, Mr Johnson, welcomed and thanked organisations and individuals for the time and input taken to give insights to the Portfolio Committee on their research and work undertaken on theft and vandalism of water infrastructure in South Africa.  The Chairperson stressed the importance of the nexus between water and electricity and the economic and social implications of theft and vandalism to both sectors, and to the country as a whole.  He also highlighted some of the findings and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) debate proceedings on theft and vandalism held in Parliament on 4 November 2014. 


In his focus, the Chairperson emphasised the importance of the inputs of the Deputy-Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Minister Andries Nel at the NCOP debate on 4 November 2014.  Deputy Minister Nel stressed that the theft and damage of infrastructure, such as copper cables, pipes, pumps, etc. have directly cost South Africa about R265 million, with indirect costs coming close to R5 billion.  At the NCOP debate on theft and vandalism of infrastructure, the following challenges were raised:


  • Arrests are not always translated to convictions as criminal are let off on light sentences;
  • Many suspects are charged with general offences such as petty theft.  Within the police, courts and prosecution arena, it is not a high priority and light sentences are issued;
  • Inadequate, inappropriate policing is often done when it comes to theft and vandalism of infrastructure.  This is due to limited resources and technology;
  • Lack of implementation of the Second Hand Goods Act;
  • Investigation of cases are superficial; and
  • Lack of intelligence gathering is at a very low level as inspections at ports of entry and exit are inadequate, especially with containers carrying scrap metals.


The Chairperson also pointed out that at the beginning of 2014, a working group of Deputy Ministers, from COGTA, Public Enterprises, Justice, Safety and Security was established to focus specifically on theft and vandalism of infrastructure in South Africa.  The working group is working consistently toward investigating and coming up with a report of its findings with requisite recommendations.  The report will be tabled to the Presidential Infrastructure Group at the end of November 2014.  The Chairperson noted that whilst the report was not formally adopted, some of the recommendations highlighted by the Deputy Minister at the NCOP debate were also useful to the public hearings of the Portfolio Committee.   


3. Submissions


The Portfolio Committee received twelve (12) submissions from the public, of which four (4) were oral.   These included submissions from individuals such as Mr James Galloway, Mr Hendrick Du Toit, Mr Sysman Mothlloung and Mr Gary Bing. Companies that contributed to the public hearings included SASOL, Acoustic Deterrent Systems, Pulane Enterprise Consulting and HB Management Consultants. Submissions were also received from organisations such as COSATU, Olyvenhoutsdrift Suid Besproeiingsraad and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA).


3.1 Oral Submissions


Four (4) oral submissions were presented to the Portfolio Committee.  These comprised:  the South African Local Government Association, Acoustic Deterrent Systems, COSATU and SASOL.


3.1.1 South African Local Government Association


Data shows that as much as 15% of schemes have functionality problems with as much as 60% experiencing water interruptions. The root causes, mainly functionality problems are currently unknown and unquantified. However, indications are that these can be attributed to a number of factors such as the lack of operations and maintenance, water resources availability, lack of bulk infrastructure and theft and vandalism.


Theft and vandalism have become major emerging challenges that municipalities are battling to contain. Currently, there is no system whereby the municipal sector is measuring socio–economic impacts of theft and vandalism, nor has an analysis been undertake of the underlying causes of theft and vandalism.


The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) highlighted some of the overarching issues that municipalities have to overcome and the cost implications of theft and vandalism. The replacement value of stolen and vandalised infrastructure currently stood at R446 billion per annum. Each and every component of infrastructure stolen has a value attached to it, and has implications in terms of the water and service delivery value chain. Studies show that theft and vandalism of water infrastructure is taking place across all provinces in South Africa. However, the consequence of the vandalism and theft will differ between the urban and rural contexts. It was reported that in rural areas, chances of vandalism are high due to the close proximity of infrastructure. In urban areas however, the crime is a lot less opportunistic and ordinary citizens would not be able to gain access to infrastructure sites as easily as in rural areas.


The South African Local Government Association has instituted a system called Municipal Strategic Self-Assessment of Water Services (MuSSA). The self-assessment that is conducted by municipalities allows the municipalities to rate themselves in respect of levels of vulnerability ranging from 0-50% (Extreme vulnerability); 50-60% (high vulnerability); 60-70% (moderate vulnerability) and 75-100% (high vulnerability).  Areas of vulnerability measured, include the following:


  • Water services planning;
  • Organisational performance and monitoring;
  • Technical skills capacity;
  • Revenue collection;
  • Water conservation and demand management;
  • Financial management; and
  • Drinking water and Blue Drop status.


The South African Local Government Association noted that there was a growing sense that service providers used to implement the installation of water infrastructure were colluding with criminals to steal this infrastructure. For example, the theft of copper is indicative of a market for copper and creates a business opportunity for service providers.


It was noted that some initiatives which municipalities could institute to eliminate theft and vandalism included –collaborating with law enforcement agencies, installing CCTVs, concrete manholes which could not be stolen, the delegation of powers to municipal law enforcement agencies, community engagement, naming and shaming, as well as working with scrap metal buyers.


It was further reported that there is currently research and legislative review underway to understand and address the challenges related to the theft and vandalism of water infrastructure. It was also important to quantify the types and form of theft and vandalism. This ranges from illegal connections by members of communities who are frustrated with the level in service delivery, as well as opportunistic theft and vandalism. 


The South African Local Government Association elaborated on the social, economic and political consequences of vandalism and theft of infrastructure, and the increasingly important role of water and the ways in which it may be used to destabilise municipalities.


3.1.2 Acoustic Deterrent Systems


Acoustic Shield is an automatic non-lethal threat detection and deterrent system. It uses non-lethal measures to deter potential thieves from theft even whilst the facility that is being targeted is far away from control centres. The system is currently being used in a number of state facilities.


Acoustic Shield is an effective technology-based approach which provides for threat detection at a distance, an automated immediate response, non-lethal deterrence if necessary, real-time event notification, remote verification of threats, and on-site and remote activation and deactivation. The goal is to prevent the intrusion, not to blast the intruders with ear-piercing sound. A series of velar warnings would be given (in multiple languages). The warnings escalated in severity and volume the closer the intruders got to the site perimeter. There would also be “babble,” to disrupt lines of communication. Maximum non-lethal deterrence was the last resort. Intruders would know they had been detected and the element of surprise would be lost. The intruders would not be able to communicate with each other and must retreat to avoid physical discomfort and pain. 


Acoustic Deterrent Systems (ADS) complied with operational and legal constraints, integrating with existing security infrastructure where it was already installed and working. The system recognised and respected nearby facilities such as residences, commercial premises, farms, small holdings, roads and road-users. The idea was to issue clear warnings to determine intent before defensive measures were enforced. The acoustic shield detected and communicated at a distance, preventing site intrusion, using sound as a deterrent.


3.1.3 SASOL


The presentation covered three focus areas, namely: SASOL today, SASOL's approach to water management and SASOL's water initiatives and opportunities going forward.


SASOL indicated that good work had been done by its organisation in terms of water conservation. They believed that much of that learning could be applied in terms of the vandalism and theft of water infrastructure.

Sasol further indicated that its water requirements in South Africa were to a large extent met by the integrated Vaal River System. In order to respond to long term water security risks, SASOL had pioneered a beyond fence-line water conservation partnership. SASOL was dependent on a reliable supply from the Vaal River System, and its operations accounted for 4% of the Vaal River System demand.


The Water Stewardship Programme had been introduced to focus attention on water challenges. Key areas involved transparency, direct operations, watershed/supply chain, community engagement, collective action, and public policy. SASOL continued to invest in water technology solutions in order to secure water access and manage facility water risks. It was of the view that beyond fence-line water conservation partnerships could save water in meaningful amounts. The initiative to combat vandalism and theft of infrastructure could use the successes of water conservation partnerships as a platform to build collaborative partnerships with communities.


As a company, SASOL needs a high assurance of water supply, and its water needs are met by the integrated Vaal System, of which it accounts for 4% of the demand for that system. SASOL has a wide portfolio of water-related projects and initiatives. Sasol continued to invest in water technology solutions in order to secure water access and manage facility water risks. Mine water desalination had started in Secunda.


3.1.4 Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)


In its submission, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) asserted that water was a constitutional basic right, and it was against the privatisation of water.  The submission noted the looming crisis of water and urged that government seriously address service delivery challenges to the poor. Water tariffs are currently under review and there was a call that these water tariff increases need to be equitable to the poor.


The Congress of South African Trade Unions in its submission, argued that the underlying causes of vandalism and theft of water infrastructure could be attributed to the historical and negative impacts of apartheid and a growing sense of alienation, particularly amongst the youth. It was noted that in order to address the challenges, there needed to be an integrated water plan that would look at upgrading and maintaining infrastructure, whilst facilitating the creation of a culture of ownership by communities as they relate to government infrastructure.


To provide solutions to the problem of theft and vandalism of water infrastructure, COSATU submitted the following:


  • Drafting a national water plan that takes into account South Africa’s aging water and energy infrastructure;
  • Upgrading and maintaining water infrastructure;
  • Creating processes for community ownership of government infrastructure plans;
  • Reversing the instances of privatisation of water services in municipalities;
  • Increasing the allocation of free and subsidised water for the poor and tariff levels charged to the affluent and high users;
  • Increasing water conservation efforts;
  • Addressing the gaps between public representatives and the different levels of government and communities;
  • Addressing service delivery back logs;
  • Safeguarding infrastructure by providing adequate security provisions; 
  • Capacitating the South African Police Services at a local level;
  • Creating decent permanent municipal and government jobs through the Infrastructure Development Plan as opposed to temporary work opportunities via the Expanded Public and Community Works Programme;
  • Dealing with the worrying levels of corruption, wasteful and under expenditure at all levels of government;
  • Avoiding massive water tariff hikes, (as compared to ESKOM’s massive above inflation continuous prices increases; and
  • Building a new culture amongst all South Africans based upon respect for the rule of law and a sense of public ownership.


4. Deliberations


Emanating from the deliberations and engagement with the respective presenters, the Portfolio Committee emphasised the importance of the following:


Water as a tool to destabilise communities and the need for increased security of water infrastructure


It was reported that municipalities are moving towards replacing copper taps with plastic taps. Talks were underway to establish water infrastructure as national key point areas. The importance of water is becoming ever more urgent. Studies have shown how water can be used as a political and social tool to destabilise municipalities and the country. This, in turn, creates a more urgent case for the increased need for security in respect of water infrastructure.


Illegal water connections


One of the main areas of concern was around illegal connections. South Africa is a water scarce country that has yet to attain universal access to water. As a result, communities have become impatient at the slow pace of service delivery and have taken it upon themselves to make their own illegal water connections. The South African Local Government Association noted that there are awareness campaigns in place to encourage members of the communities to report those making illegal connections. Studies have shown that even farmers are guilty of making illegal connections by diverting water from the main water supply pipeline and connecting it directly to farms.


The South African Local Government Association reported that the response of the municipalities in relation to the illegal connections was that, in instances, where the connection does not affect the water supply of the community, these connections are maintained and metered so that the individuals can be billed for the water use. However, in instances where the illegal connection affects the water supply of the entire community, these connections are immediately disconnected.


Declaring copper as a precious metal to deter copper theft and vandalism


The argument made that if copper is declared a precious metal, it could act as a deterrent. This would create an environment through which the buying and selling of copper was regulated, controlled and monitored. This would however, require collaboration between the South African Police Service and the Department of Mineral Resources, amongst others.

The capacity of municipalities to address ageing infrastructure as well as the cost of continual replacement of water infrastructure


It was reported that the annual replacement cost of water infrastructure was R446 billion. Presenters noted that, in many cases, when infrastructure replaced, there were incidences of theft and vandalism. This highlighted the possibility that service providers were working in collusion with criminals. The combined challenge of vandalism and theft and ageing infrastructure has placed a huge burden on municipalities, as the Municipal Infrastructure Grants and Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grants, are not meant to be utilised for capital expenditure such as the replacement of infrastructure. From a municipal point of view, there is a growing need to start thinking of a planning cycle, which incorporates the risk of theft and vandalism.


Extent to which theft is being policed and enforced by the South African Police Services (SAPS)


The South African Police Services (SAPS) noted that theft is defined as taking another person's property without their permission. There are however, very few cases where cable theft was successfully prosecuted. There is difficulty in proving that the goods were stolen property.  Furthermore, the copper recovered has no identifying marks as they have either been burned off or scratched off. However, SAPS noted that the Second Hand Goods Act has been amended. This has now made it illegal to be in possession of copper, which had been restructured or changed. Furthermore, it is now an offence to buy such materials, and is considered as being in the possession of stolen or presumed stolen property. There was a current case in the Roodepoort courts, where a dealer had been arrested for buying large amounts of copper. This was regarded as a test case for specifically targeting dealers in terms of the amended Act. There was a process in place for the SAPS legal team and the Secretariat to look at further suggested amendments to the Act.


Further proposals to mitigate the growing challenge of theft of infrastructure include payment of the seller through electronic banking. Currently, scrap metal companies work on a cash basis and the seller only has to provide an address and no proof of address. Experience has shown that many of the addresses provided by the sellers do not exist. It is believed that if scrap metal companies use the electronic banking system, they will be able to better monitor, track and police illegal copper and scrap metal sellers, whilst stemming the tide of illegal copper and scrap metal theft.

It was reported by SAPS that once the copper and scrap metal is bought, it is compressed in huge blocks, which is then exported legally, mainly to countries like China and India. Exporters have legal permits to export these metals. At present, SAPS does not have information on the movement of scrap metal and copper beyond the borders of South Africa.  A Deputy Ministerial Task Team has been established to address the issue of vandalism and theft of infrastructure.


Water losses


It was widely understood that water losses are as a result of not only vandalism and theft of water infrastructure, but also due to old and ageing infrastructure. These water losses have a detrimental impact on the revenue of municipalities, particularly those who do not have the resources and budget to address them.


SASOL reported that its organisation had done good work in terms of water conservation and had embarked on a programme that worked closely with communities and local government. As SASOL is an organisation that needs a high level of water assurance, it is within their interests as well to start looking at water conservation outside of boundary fences and developing collaborative solutions in addressing theft and vandalism of water infrastructure.


5. Conclusion and Recommendations


In South Africa, Government is investing in infrastructure to eliminate service backlogs in under-serviced areas, especially the under-developed areas in order to meet people’s basic needs.  South Africa is a ‘water-stressed’ country – not only does it have a limited amount of available water resources, but there is also insufficient capacity and quality of the infrastructure required to capture and distribute water to households and industry.  Agriculture, mining, and electricity generation are all dependent on large-volume water supply.


Whilst the Government has stressed the centrality of infrastructure in development, with its added commitment in infrastructure, South Africa is also faced with challenges with regard to water infrastructure development to ensure service delivery to all its citizens.  However, a more recent challenge in the last few years is the theft and vandalism of water infrastructure in many parts of South Africa. 


Having considered the outcomes of the public hearings and the engagement with various Departments and entities, the Portfolio Committee has prioritised the following key recommendations:


  • There is a strong need for greater coordination of the law on theft and vandalism of water infrastructure amongst all relevant Departments and stakeholders, such as State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), the private sector and the scrap metal sector;
  • Although the security community and SAPs has thus far made strides in fighting theft and vandalism of water infrastructure, there is a greater need and emphasis for increased intelligence work to deal with syndicates;
  • The Department of Justice system should consider more effectively if prosecutors charged thieves not only for the scrap metal value of infrastructure, but for the replacement value of the part.  Sentences should be much heavier and being caught would serve as much more of a deterrent;
  • There should be increased policing and enforcement within metros to ensure aggressive policing of the scrap metal sector;
  • With regard to legislative interventions, it is important to focus on amendments across various sectors to address the issue.  The following legislative amendments are needed:
    • Amendments to the Second Hand Goods Act to extend the power of police as well as industry to keep electronic copies of details of sales of scrap metal, as well as an amendment to Schedule 7 of the Second Hand Goods Acts to ensure minimum sentencing;
    • Amendments to the Electricity Regulatory Act as the theft of electricity cables is a different crime to prosecute;
    • Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act to those involved in illicit dealing.
  • The relevant Ministry should consider a declaration by notice in the Government Gazette for redefining protection officers of security companies to peace officers;
  • A strong suggestion was that South Africa should consider a temporary ban on all scrap copper metal and copper must be included as a category in the Precious Metal Act;
  • South Africa needs more research to develop the technology to positively identify cables linked to infrastructure;
  • Establishment of a centralised place for information gathering and analysis of infrastructure across all sectors; and
  • The Department should consider the creation of a national mobilisation and awareness effort and programme.




Report to be considered.





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