Johannesburg - The battle against criminals in the second-hand goods industry will intensify from January 2012.
The Second-Hand Goods Act will officially be in force on the first day of next year and the government, together with the South African Police Service (SAPS), has vowed to make the affected industries take the new stringent laws to heart.
The act is intended to regulate the business of dealers in second-hand goods and pawnbrokers to combat trade in stolen goods. A further aim is to promote ethical standards in the trade.
Common second-hand goods traded illegally are copper cables, steel, car parts and home electronics such as televisions and DVDs.
Pieter van Dalen, the DA's spokesperson on public enterprises, said there would be nowhere to hide for illegal traders.
"This act will be a major paradigm shift with regards to the law," said Van Dalen. "The specifications of the laws that will apply to the second-hand goods industry are more stringent than general criminal law."
Van Dalen was involved in the drafting of the act and saw it signed into law in 2009. He said being part of the copper theft task team made him realise how unregulated the industry was.
"In the past it was easy for someone to walk into a scrap yard and sell whatever goods they had without being asked too many questions, but now the dealers cannot just buy from anyone. The act will force them to be more responsible."
Pre-owned goods retailer Cash Crusaders welcomed the announcement that the law would be soon be effective, calling it "progressive".
CEO Sean Stegmann said the regulation would bring more credibility to the industry.
"When you look at the act, it intends to clamp down on all those unscrupulous dealers who have been flying under the radar and getting away with illegal dealings," said Stegmann.
"It's a much-needed remedy to fight against people who use second-hand goods for criminal purposes."
There are two sets of regulations still being promulgated under the act. The first regulates the accreditation of associations, while the second will focus on dealers and recyclers.How it will work
Every industry that deals with second-hand goods will have to join an association that will represent them. The organisation will then need to apply for accreditation with the national police commissioner, who will decide if it can be given certification to operate.
Each association will need to have a constitution-like set of rules and regulations that will govern its members. Dealers will also have to implement sterner checks and balances at their operations to ensure that they do not buy or sell any stolen goods.
The police will be allowed to raid a scrap yard suspected of illegal dealings, and can shut down operations for up to seven days.
If a business is found operating without a licence, a penalty of up to R1m can be imposed or, alternatively, a 10-year jail sentence for the owner of the establishment. Traders will not be allowed to alter the original form of the goods before selling them unless they are for recycling.
Van Dalen believes self-regulation for each industry is the right approach to eliminate crime involving pre-owned goods.
"If you think about it, criminals everywhere always find a way to get away with illegal business," he said. "They know all the loopholes - so what better way to get them to come clean than to make them regulate each other?"
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa
said last week in parliament the various associations that already exist will be considered for accreditation as provided for in the act.
Mthethwa said with the act coming into operation, SAP members would receive training on how to deal with related crimes. The necessary instructions and support would be given to police stations on an ongoing basis.