South Africa has no copper mines, but copper exports to China are booming: the result of a cable theft epidemic which regularly plunges whole suburbs into darkness, strands thousands of train passengers and is wreaking havoc with the national economy.
Although the Western Cape province has no copper mines, local business leaders reported that the region exported R77-million worth of copper to China last year.
"Some people might say that exports to China are good for the economy. They're not. There is a huge criminal activity going on that is enormously damaging to the economy," said Albert Schuitmaker, of Cape Town's Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Nationally, it costs an estimated R500-million to replace stolen cables every year and R2,5-billion in knock-on losses, including the impact of power outages and commuters being late for work when trains don't work.
At a crisis meeting on Tuesday with scrap metal dealers, Cape Town mayor Helen Zille warned that the wholesale plundering of insulation cables, wires and even manhole covers threatened to bring the tourist hub "to its knees" - a fear shared by business leaders throughout the country.
The cable crisis is not unique to South Africa. Record prices for copper and other metals have led to an upsurge in theft and associated disruption in many other countries, ranging from the United States to Britain to Vietnam, said Rens Bindeman, a consultant advising South African authorities on how to tackle the problem.
But in South Africa - already plagued by one of the world's highest crime rates - authorities fear it is spiralling out of control and will only worsen as the country rolls out infrastructure projects ahead of the 2010 World Cup.
full story from IOL here