The Price of Scrap

This scrap metal sculpture which I saw in Rhyolite (Death Valley) wouldn't last long in SA

Driving, or rather crawling along whilst in a long queue created by rubberneckers gawking at yet another morning accident on the N14 highway, I had a chance to observe one of the many examples of visible metal theft in and around my general neighbourhood. The item in question is an ever diminishing heavy duty guard rail on the highway bridge after the R55 on-ramp. All that remains is a lone piece of a once complete tubular railing; its siblings having been removed and presumably sold as scrap metal or used in a shack construction project. I’m almost certain that this remaining piece will eventually disappear once the correct size of spanner has been obtained to do the dirty deed.

Metal theft is quickly becoming one of my pet hates in South African society. Stealing, whether with intent to sell or for personal use is however an age-old societal affliction and nothing new. In SA metal theft is so common that it is now barely newsworthy. In this particular instance the bridge guard railing, which is intended for public safety has been removed to make a quick buck without probably a second’s thought from those involved. It is not safe to be an item of street furniture in South Africa, unless you’re either made of plastic or wood, but even then if you haven’t been cemented into the bedrock, you’re more than likely to end up in someone else’s possession. When I first came to the country, I noted that most of the supermarket trolleys were made of plastic, in contrast to the UK where metal is preferred. Trolleys here are effectively free metal on wheels.

During some recent renovation projects to my house I was able to scrap 82kgs of steel – namely from two hideous medieval-type chandeliers and equally ugly stair balustrading. I packed it into my bakkie and drove it to a scrap merchant only to discover that the market rate was an anticlimactically low R1.75 per kilo – hardly worth the effort for a measly 143 Rand and 50 Cents! I did however get to experience the shady world of scrap metal dealings and the exchange of goods for cash through a barred hole in the wall. The cashier thought that I was someone famous from a boy band – she obviously didn’t get out of the hole in the wall much.

There is a primeval drive for humans to survive and a piece of scrap metal (the key word here is SCRAP) might put food on a family’s table for a couple of days. Individuals who steal fences, crash barriers, signposts, copper cables and just about any other useful metallurgical item they can get their grubby mitts on are a nuisance to society. Copper cable theft has actually been declared by a government minister as a national crisis, as it cripples both power supplies and the already archaic telecommunications system in the country. The Gautrain has also experienced delays due to substation cable theft.

Ultimately the cost of replacement will get passed onto the general taxpayer and as I have been inconvenienced on several occasions by copper cable theft, I will happily volunteer my Navara to flatten any such crettins caught with their hands in the cookie jar; opportunistic or otherwise. This might be slightly more metal than they had originally bargained for…especially if I manage to get up a bit of speed before connecting.

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