The copper theft barometer dropped to R10m in March after showing a slight uptick to R11.2m in February from R11.1m in January and R12.4m in December last year‚ according to the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry's (Sacci’s) latest copper theft barometer.

The January level was the lowest level of the barometer since April 2009 and was a strong indication that the downward momentum seen last year should continue this year‚ the business chamber said in a statement.

While there was a strong relationship between the incidence level of copper theft and the international copper price‚ this was a cyclical relationship that could be influenced by structural changes within the domestic environment‚ the chamber said.

The copper theft volume indicator eased to 142 metric tons in March after being steady at a level of 156 metric tons in February and January from 179 tons in December and 180 tons in November.

The international spot price of copper continued its drastic fall to a monthly average of $7‚255 per ton in April from $7‚659 in March and $8‚062 in February. The April figure was 12.4% lower than a year before and contracted by 5.2% on a monthly basis.

Despite promising news from developed economies on growth expectations that would in turn bolster the price of industrial inputs like copper‚ commodity price trends are far from a stable upward phase.

The price of Brent crude oil has for example fallen below $100 per barrel in April‚ from the short term spike of $118 in February‚ giving nonetheless a welcomed sigh of relief to households across the globe.

Copper waste exports decreased to $35.1m in January from $37.3m in December 2012 and the 2012 end-year peak of $43m in November. The January figure is in fact 10% higher than a year before but below the 2012 monthly average of $40m.

The average for 2011 was $50m and for 2010 it was $37m. The downside potential for waste exports is the proposed initiative to place export restrictions on waste metal products as proposed by the Economic Development Department (EDD).

Gautrain said last month that the north-south train service was disrupted on March 20 for about five hours due to the theft of signaling cables between Olifantsfontein and Samrand. Trains were operated at reduced speeds while the repairs were undertaken.

In line with international trends‚ the theft of metal from South Africa’s rail network is a serious problem. Published statistics indicate that train delays due to cable theft in the UK have increased ten-fold since 2004/5. Thieves are targeting signaling cables‚ overhead power lines and even metal fences to sell for scrap.

Far more significant than the replacement cost of these actual components is the consequential cost to the national economy - the tens of thousands of lost man-hours while passengers are delayed in affected trains.

The Gautrain network is designed to fail-to-safe. This means that when a cable is cut trains are brought to a safe stop. This protects passengers but can lead to frustrating delays while the problem is found and fixed.

Unfortunately‚ along with other rail operators‚ the Gautrain will remain a target for cable thieves. Since opening its first service in June 2010‚ Gautrain have experienced four cable theft incidents which have resulted in service delays.

There have however been numerous other incidents where either our security systems have managed to prevent service-critical cables from being stolen‚ or where the cables stolen have not been service-critical.