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Crime spreading like wildfire in the timber industry

Michele du Plessis

On June 18th, 2014, the headline on the Forestry in South Africa website stated: “Waves of crime crippling the timber industry”.

June 2020 and we can say crime is still spreading like wildfire in the timber industry.

“As well as for timber theft, the industry is also going through hell with diesel theft and bell logger part theft,” Pieter Knipschild, chairman of the Lowveld Timber and Theft Forum said in the article.

“The Lowveld Timber Theft Forum reports that the biggest problem in solving timber theft currently lies with failures within the structures of the SAPS. People often expressed their frustrations when having to deal with local police stations. In many instances, none of the cases reported is investigated by the SAPS due to their limited knowledge of the industry and timber theft not being perceived as a serious crime,” from the same article. (

Some of the challenges the industry faced in 2014 were listed as:

  • “Un-roadworthy trucks with the traffic department doing very little in removing them. These trucks are very often used in timber theft.
  • Many landowners and absent landowners in the area of the Lowveld. The area is very fragmented and often absent landowners permit potential criminals to harvest on their farms resulting in these people also stealing timber from surrounding farms and when caught, claiming that they were not aware of the boundaries.
  • Numerous neglected plantations. When a plantation is overgrown it is very difficult to see when timber is getting stolen.
  • Many timber transporters. The area has a lot of informal timber transporters who use every opportunity to steal timber from depots and roadside. This, together with no standard permit system for the transportation of timber that could be enforced by law and illegal, and fraudulent permits contribute to the challenges.
  • A possible collaboration between security companies and timber thieves and harvesting contractors and timber thieves.”

“These problems are escalated by markets accepting stolen timber or willing to pay below market value, land claims and rightful ownership, many cases are not reported due to a great deal of ignorance from authorities, insurance companies are no longer willing to insure the equipment, unscrupulous timber agents and contractors and farm murders that are on the increase,” the Forestry SA article continued.

Thus, now, in 2020, we may ask: “What is new?”

In the Forestry South Africa – Annual Report 2017 document, on page 14: “FSA will continue to engage the South African Police Service nationally, on the possibility of introducing timber theft units, along the lines of their stock theft units. Other theft interventions during the year included the following: Crime Reporter App, Compulsory use of Satellite Vehicle Tracking, Systems and Timber Identification and Tracking System.

2002 Statistic quoted the following figures: approximately 66 000 direct employees, with over 300 000 dependents. These forests produced approximately 17 million m3 of commercial Roundwood in 2002, with a forestry worth of R3.3 billion. Many people gain their livelihood benefits from the forestry industry; a town like Sabie relies heavily upon the timber industry for survival.

Timber theft, the illegal treatment of the stolen timber with illegally obtained products are a booming trade that is causing extensive damage to the legal timber industry. How much are people paying for these stolen and then illegally treated poles that are sure to fail? Can the timber industry afford the loss of sales, especially now?

GPS News asked Sergeant Mandy Nculu, Media Spokesperson for Sabie SAPS, what the police can do about the timber theft.

“The police are doing their best by arresting culprits found transporting timber without a permit. As for now, Bergvleit is the only plantation that has a lot of cases reported. The reason is that there are two parties in conflict about the plantation. And on Friday, July 3rd, there will be a meeting at Swartfontein between the police, Safcol and Bergvliet plantation to resolve the security issues and the way forward. The cluster commander will be part of the meeting.

The other plantations that opened cases, the suspects were arrested and they are attending court.

Police during patrols they do stop the trucks that are transporting timber and asks for permits if they don’t have they are arrested immediately,” Sergeant Mandy Nculu said.

Various role players in the industry believe that to minimise these serious problems, a collaborative effort by all affected parties is required. Interactions with SAPS, the different Governmental Departments and representatives from the timber industry is of the utmost importance to curb the spread of this crime wildfire.



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