Johannesburg - Johannesburg city officials were evasive on Friday about the severity of the action that would be taken against about 100 City Power technicians who allegedly deliberately caused a power outage that crippled many parts of the city last week.
It is estimated that the consequent loss to Gauteng’s annual gross regional product (GRP) could be as much as R3 billion.
Sapa reported that by noon on Saturday, power had been restored to all areas of the city. The unprotected strike started on Wednesday and at one point affected the Houghton home of Nelson Mandela.
It also reported that the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) was conducting its own investigation into the strike, which would include the demands of the workers and the alleged sabotage of sub-stations, quoting Samwu spokesman Tahir Sema.
The technicians were opposing new working hours that would result in some employees working shifts. This new system comes in the wake of a study in September last year, which revealed that City Power was spending R213 million on overtime annually, according to Sicelo Xulu, City Power’s managing director. On average, each technician was getting paid R1.2m in overtime.
The outage meant reservoirs could not pump water to areas such as Northcliff.
Residential and business areas in the north, south and east of the city were affected.
Confirming that criminal charges would be lodged, Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau would not be drawn into details. “Our teams are currently in discussion with SAPS to be able to identify and ensure appropriate action is taken against the individuals that might have been identified. So, allow us not to get into detail in that regard,” Tau said.
Gauteng MEC for Community Safety Faith Mazibuko, who likened the sabotage by the City Power technicians to terrorism, said specialised police task team the Hawks would also investigate.
Azar Jammine, the chief economist at research firm Econometrix, calculated on assumption that if between 5 percent and 10 percent of the province was affected by the power loss, then about 3.5 percent of the potential annual GRP was affected.
If that was spread over the three working days of power outage, then the loss to annual GRP for Gauteng totalled about 0.1 percent, or R3bn. Jammine cautioned that it was difficult to arrive at an exact figure because the full extent of the impact was unknown.
Econometrix, which is in Houghton, was among scores of businesses, including whole shopping malls, that ground to a halt during the shutdown. “We are clearly falling behind some deadlines,” Jammine said.
Power FM, the recently launched radio station, which is also based in Houghton, resorted to powering its studio using generators while the rest of the building remained without electricity, according to an employee not authorised to speak to the media.
MTN said its outlets in isolated areas in Johannesburg had been affected but the telecommunications giant was looking into alternative power solutions. “MTN is aware that City Power is working tirelessly towards resolving the challenges. We are confident that the efforts to address these issues will yield a positive outcome for the benefit of customers,” said Farhad Khan, the chief consumer sales and distribution officer.
Peggy Drodskie, the chief operating officer of the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that because Johannesburg was essentially the economic engine of South Africa, the impact of the power complications could be wider than the city itself, possibly resulting in delays of goods for export reaching the harbour and affecting the country’s reputation as an international trading partner.
“The council is doing something to try to alleviate it. The problem is not only reflected in the loss of productivity; local deliveries will be impacted.”
Delivery rhythms to supermarkets could be upset and the retail sector might have to employ staff overtime to pack shelves for when trading returned to normal.
Some perishable stock might also no longer be sellable and would have to be counted as a loss, Drodskie said, adding that shop owners could not trade in the dark as doing so would expose them to theft.
Surprisingly, members had not yet approached the chamber to lodge complaints against City Power, she added.
“What would be appropriate [would be] for [the] council to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.”
City Power spokesman Sol Masola told Sapa that the power supplier was working with the police to identify those responsible for cutting supply in Johannesburg.
No arrests had been made by yesterday.
On Saturday, Masola reported that City Power had held “information sharing sessions” with Samwu and Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union delegations over the strike.
City Power had reported its concern about the manner in which striking employees had disrupted the network. - Business Report