Forestry in South Africa
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March : Timber Theft

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16 March, 2012

Timber Theft

Stakeholders in the timber industry benefited in attending the general meeting presented by the Lowveld Timber Theft Committee in Sabie

The general meeting was intended to inform stakeholders of the progress made on the formulation and implementation of a strategy to drastically reduce timber theft in the region. 

A committee, representative of key industry players, was elected in February.  Each committee member has been assigned a specific portfolio to ensure that the industry is assisted in every step from catching the thieves all the way to ensuring successful convictions.   

Statistical data on each case will be kept to measure the success of the strategy and to find ways on improving on current processes. This information will also be communicated on national level to ensure government's awareness of the severity of the problem.  The ultimate aim is to encourage cooperation and participation from the South African Police Services and to uncover the syndicates, which industry players believe forms part of organized crime.

Mr Tobie Steyn from the Nelspruit prosecuting office discussed various aspects around the importance of evidence and the role of the prosecutor and what is required from the industry to ensure that the prosecutors are placed in a position to convict criminals. 

Great interest was shown when Mr.  Kobus van der Walt  from the asset forfeiture unit presented the different applicable chapters of the  act.  He made it clear that all efforts must be made to ensure that assets of these criminals are confiscated to make it less viable for these crimes to occur. 

Pieter Knipschild stressed that the problem will not go away without a focused, strategic and coordinated strategy (between public, private and governmental enterprises).

The biggest problem in solving timber theft currently lies with failures within the structures of the SAPS.  Various people who attended the meeting expressed their frustrations when having to deal with the local police stations, even though representatives from SAPS were present.  In many instances none of the cases reported are not investigated by the SAPS due to their limited knowledge of the industry and timber theft being perceived as not a serious crime.  All efforts by the timber theft committee to engage the SAPS to nominate a representative to serve on the committee have failed. 

Joey Lascelles, who is the media liaison officer, stated that the committee will go to great lengths to ensure that significant focus is placed on timber and related theft.  The benefit of the new structure is that different entities will no longer function in isolation in trying to fight timber theft, but information sharing will bring suspected criminals to light and will make it impossible for these people to operate in the industry. Various local radio stations will be approached in assisting in the campaign and there is a possibility of launching a timber theft hot line where suspected criminal activity can be reported.   

Focus will also be placed on the timber markets to ensure that appropriate processes are put in place to ensure that they do not accept stolen timber.  Markets that are unwilling to participate in the campaign will be profiled and will be subjected to tremendous pressure from the industry at large. 

Pieter Knipschild thanked everybody for the tremendous support and encouraged everybody to get involved.