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Phoenix & SAPS: Action against illegal harvesters

Michele du Plessis

In an operation between SAPS and Phoenix Security in Sabie on May 26th, an effort was made to arrest the alleged thieves that harvest wood – eucalyptus – in the plantations around Sabie. The depot/property where the illegally harvested poles are offloaded and stacked is near TTC in Klein Sabie and purportedly belongs to TCLM.

After weeks of surveillance and investigation by Captain Erick Swanepoel and his colleague, Hendry Mashaba, a strike operation was launched to try and curb the illegal harvesting of eucalyptus poles in the plantations. “After we received information about the activities near TTC Merensky Sawmill in Klein Sabie and the offloading of trucks during the night between 12 and 4 am, and a description of the trucks transporting the stolen poles, we investigated. We contacted SAPS POP in White River and gave them the information and they also investigated,” Captain Erick Swanepoel, Phoenix Sabie said.

When Phoenix Security – Captain Swanepoel and Hollier, Hendry Mashaba and Divan Payne- and the police arrived at the depot, the “Makappas” realized what was happening and scattered into all directions. Eight suspects were arrested. Although the suspects were in possession of the stolen poles, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the suspects. They were charged with violation of Covid-19 lockdown regulations. “The illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe couldn’t be locked-up and deported because of the lockdown regulations. I estimate the value of the poles at the depot more than R160 000. One pole can be sold for anything from R80 upwards. And there is a great demand for poles at the moment,” Captain Swanepoel said.

Phoenix Security has not been involved in the Bergvliet, Safcol plantations for at least a year. “We are not involved in securing the Safcol plantations. The new security company that is working there has been attacked by the illegal harvesters and beaten severely. At the moment, at least 6 to 8 trucks per night transport the harvested poles from the plantation through town to the depots. There are a few depots in the Sabie area but the one near TTC is the biggest. Management from Bergvliet plantation was also present at the operation as they are suffering great losses from the illegal harvesting,” Captain Swanepoel said.

The property where the poles (depot) are kept belongs allegedly to Thaba Chweu Local Municipality. “The poles pose a fire danger to the area as well. The municipality will have to take steps against the illegal occupation of the property and the criminal activities on the property, as well.”

GPS News contacted Themba Sibiya, Communications Manager at TCLM with the following questions: Did anybody receive permission to use/ lease the TCLM property? Is TCLM aware of the fact that the property is being used for supposedly illegal/criminal activities? Many of the people involved in the illegal harvesting of the eucalyptus poles are from Zimbabwe and thus illegal immigrants as well. Will TCLM take action against the illegal occupation of municipal property used for criminal activities? If so, what will the procedures be?

Themba Sibiya said that an investigation into the case is of utmost importance. “TCLM will be investigating this case and when the investigation is concluded, the necessary steps will be taken if need be. TCLM is strongly opposed to criminal activities and the alleged illegal occupation of the property. As soon as the investigation is concluded, an official statement will be released.”

Unfortunately, despite the effort of the SAPS and Phoenix, the next day the Makappas were back at the depot and the illegal activities continued unhindered…

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