Cape Town grinds to a halt

By Lynnette Johns and Vivien Horler

Millions of Capetonians were without power on Friday night when an Eskom transmission line from a major sub-station went down.

The lights went out from Kommetije to Canal Walk just before 9pm, but load-shedding was not to blame. The northern suburbs were largely unaffected.

The power cut left Eskom, provincial and city officials scrambling to figure out the problem.

By 11.30pm on Friday night 20 percent of the affected areas had their power restored and three teams were out working on the problem.

Eskom's regional customer services manager, Alwie Lester, said a team of technicians was patrolling 40km of line which ran from Acacia, a major substation along the N1, to find and isolate the fault.

A number of smaller stations feed off Acacia, which in turn provides electricity for about half the city.

The entire City Bowl, Atlantic seaboard, southern suburbs and most of the Cape Flats were affected, while areas including Bellville, Durbanville, Brackenfell and the Tygerberg as well as Khayelitsha and Somerset West were not affected.

Local Eskom management convened an emergency meeting late on Friday night while a team of technicians were dispatched to the Acacia substation.

Eskom spokesperson Andrew Etzinger said the situation was "serious".

"We are trying to establish exactly what happened, but we do know is that it involves a 400kW transmission line between the Acacia sub-station and another sub-station. It is not a distribution problem," Etzinger said.

Mayor Helen Zille and hundreds of other people were left in the dark at Artscape during a tribute concert for Nelson Mandela.

She was quick to point out the power cut was not caused by load-shedding but was rather infrastructure and maintenance related. "Both Eskom lines into the city are down. I was told an Eskom team was working on the lines on Thursday."

City electricity spokesperson Charles Kadalie said he could not remember a similar electricity crisis. "We are not sure what happened, but both intake points in Philippi and Montague Gardens have gone down," he said.

Parties across the city came to a standstill. In Long Street hundreds of revellers sat outside clubs and pubs while music blared from car stereos. Weekend Argus reporter Bronwynne Jooste said tabs were being run up manually and bar people were doing mental calculations.

At the airport the lights went off for a minute before the generator kicked in. At the docks Port Control was running on generator power.

Metro rescue reported no serious injuries or incidents

Cape Town's three major hospitals - Groote Schuur, Tygerberg and Red Cross Children's hospital - are ringfenced so that they are not affected by load-shedding, but Friday night's collapse of power meant both Groote Schuur and Red Cross had to switch to generators. GF Jooste in Manenberg was also running on generator power.

With the power uninterrupted in the northern areas, Tygerberg was unaffected. Private hospitals too switched over to generator power.

The cableway was unaffected as the last car left the mountain summit at 8.30pm. Marketing manager Collette van Aswegen said generators had kicked in when the power went down, but by then all visitors were off the mountain.

Ten days ago a major rescue operation was mounted when load-shedding halted cable cars.

At St Elmo's in the Blue Route a cheerful receptionist said they were still functioning. "We have a wood-fired oven, so we're delivering."

  • The late appearance of Saturday's Weekend Argus is due to Friday night's blackout.

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