Cables used for bullet-proof vests

Paul Vecchiatto
By Paul Vecchiatto, ITWeb Cape Town correspondent
Cape Town, 01 Sept 2009

Thieves are stealing fibre-optic cables to use the Kevlar armoured covering to make bullet-proof jackets for criminal activity, such as cash-in-transit heists, says Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Pieter van Dalen.

“I haven't come across this myself, or even seen a bullet-proof jacket made out of this reused Kevlar. But I have spoken to a number of people on the ground and they say it is happening,” he says.

A law enforcement source confirmed he has heard similar rumours, but would not comment further.

Before becoming the DA's shadow minister of public enterprises, Van Dalen was a Cape Town councillor, and for three years headed up the city's “Copperheads” - a task team set up to crack down on copper cable theft around the municipality.

Gustav Smit, CEO of Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), says the fibre-optic cables used by his company are not sheathed in Kevlar, a strong fibrous material often used to manufacture bullet-proof jackets and some types of helicopter blades.

“We use high-quality ducting and our fibre is buried in the ground. However, some companies do use Kevlar sheaths, especially for long-haul cabling where they use either cheap or no ducting, or they have overhead installations.”

Smit says DFA has experienced some attempted theft of its fibre-optic cables. “But they often just break the cable and then leave it when they see there is nothing there for them to use.”

Telkom has yet to respond to ITWeb's queries about the extent to which it has been affected.

Telkom could do more

Van Dalen also attacked Telkom for allowing its copper cable theft investigations to be outsourced to private companies, rather than using its own internal investigating unit to combat the scourge.

“From what I have learnt, the private security companies complained they could not operate with the Telkom investigating unit breathing down their necks. So Telkom tasked their own unit to only investigate fibre-optic theft.”

According to replies that Van Dalen received to his parliamentary questions last week, copper bale theft cost Eskom R71.7 million in 2009 (including replacement and security costs) and Transnet R158 million. This brings the total cost incurred between the three public entities in this regard to approximately R1.5 billion. This figure has increased every year, for the last three years.

Telkom is responsible for 85% of the total (because telecommunications makes far bigger use of copper cabling) and the problem is getting significantly worse. The Telkom figure of R1.3 billion represents a 39% increase from 2008 and almost double the amount for 2007 (R674 million).

Van Dalen says, of the three, Eskom's figures have a broader context, which needs to be taken into account. In 2004/5, Eskom also lost R71 million.

“So, if one takes inflation into account, Eskom has managed to turn the tide somewhat. It still has work to do, but clearly it is doing something right. For example, Eskom has made use of an internal investigation system in conjunction with private security companies.

“The utilisation of internal Eskom staff has been useful in that the staff have a vested interest in the protection of the cables, whereas private security companies do not necessarily care. Telkom and Transnet, in comparison, have continued to use only private security companies,” he notes.

Van Dalen says Eskom sits on the Non-Ferrous Metal Combating Committee and works well with the police via this institution. Transnet and Telkom, however, do not give this committee the requisite support, he believes.

“They would do well to take a leaf out of Eskom's book.”