Central SA
Timber theft threatens sustainability
07:06 (GMT+2), Tue , 27 May 2014
Central SA
The impact of timber related crime in the Lowveld area has reached dangerous levels.
The impact of timber related crime in the Lowveld area has reached dangerous levels with an estimated financial loss of approximately R200 000 in less than one week.

“It is however not only the financial losses we experience that concerns us, but also the increasing violence that accompany these robberies of specifically chainsaws,” said Ms Joey Lascelles, spokesperson of the Lowveld Timber Theft Forum (LTTF).

Recently two employees of Komatiland Forests were severely assaulted at the Frankfort Village in Bergvliet Plantation. They were seriously injured when assaillants looking for chainsaws attacked them with machetes. There were no saws on the property at that stage.

Scarcely two days later GDH Harvesting lost 210 litres of diesel to thieves. The gang of men also stole an angle grinder and drill along with a large amount of load straps from GDH's Grootfontein Plantation outside Pilgrims Rest. Angle grinders and drills are used to get access to the sought after chainsaws that are usually locked away while the load straps are used in the transportation of stolen timber.

The following day six chainsaws were stolen at the Klipkopje Plantation. One saw is worth approximately R7000. The thieves gained access to the locked storerooms using excessive force. On the same day another saw was stolen from a different plantation.

“It is also of a great concern that these operators can now no longer carry on with their harvesting operations, and to replace those chainsaws will come at a very great loss to them,” Lascelles explained.

Mr Pieter Knipschild, chairperson of LTTF told AgriECO that the mass theft of chainsaws during the past month had resulted in the big suppliers of these machines running out of stock. Lowvelder confirmed that several big suppliers in the area had no or little saws left to sell. “Contractors had to be send home as there were no saws for them to work with and this has a terrible spiral effect on these people's income and those that they have working for them.”

Knipschild said that information received proved that stolen saws are often used in the theft of timber. Recently two Bell Loggers used in harvesting was stripped of its engins, a 1919 pump and various other parts. These separate incidents occurred in the Barberton area at the Buhle Betfu transport company and Imphisi contractors respectively. The theft left the loggers with severe damage. It is believed that these parts are then used to rebuild other loggers that are also used in the illegal harvesting of logs.

On the very same day Sappi lost 317 young trees at their Venus Plantation when timber thieves almost cleaned out an entire block. “The estimated worth of these trees – that were nine years old – is approximately R86 000,” Knipschild explained. It was alleged that the Graskop police station refused to open a case stating “that a case cannot be opened as there is no suspects.”

Hans Merensky also lost 140 trees on the same day to timber thieves. “A private security company made an arrest but police refused assistance in getting the truck confiscated,” claimed Knipschild.

There have been many more incidents. “You can realise how frustrated the industry is. Crime is escalating and no arrests are being made and very little assistance is offered by the SAPS,” said Knipschild.

AgriECO spoke to provincial commander Gen Thulani Ntobela who promised that he has already launched an investigation into these allegations. “We are doing the best we can with regards to timber theft,” he told this journalist. He assured that an answer would be forthcoming soon.

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