Johannesburg - Copper theft increased again in February, the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) said on Wednesday.
Sacci's Copper Theft Barometer was R22.8m in February - up 4% from January's R21.9m, Sacci said.
It was R20.9m in December.
In 2011, the barometer averaged R17.8m.
The barometer - started in December 2010 - is an indicator of the estimated cost of replacing copper cable stolen from major users Transnet, Telkom and Eskom.
The chamber expected copper theft levels to be higher this year than in 2011 due to increased international demand for copper.
"According to Xstrata Copper (Australia) global demand for copper will rise by 3.1% in 2012, boosted by China's continued investment in housing and infrastructure that will drive up demand.
"This is significant since China's demand constitutes 40% of global demand," Sacci said.
However, the current trend of stronger law enforcement could cut out a vital conduit for organised copper-theft syndicates, Sacci said.
"Last year, there were 72 533 reported incidents of copper cable theft and 10 736 arrests were made.
"Sentences passed on guilty offenders have recently become harsher."
Another positive measure was the implementation of the Second-Hand Goods Act, dealing with accreditation of second-hand goods dealers' associations.
"These provisions regulate suspicious transactions as well as the possession, acquisition and disposal of metal cable with a burnt cover such as copper."
The act will be implemented in full once outstanding regulations are promulgated, expected to be by the end of April.