EThekwini ratepayers are losing R120 million a year to illegal electricity connections and cable theft – and the municipality has admitted it’s losing a “war” with shack dwellers who steal council cables and hotwire power connections.
This week, the city all but conceded it was being held to ransom by hundreds of shack dwellers living on the fringes of Reservoir Hills. In a desperate bid to restore power to frustrated ratepaying households in the area, the council backed off the fight with shack dwellers and let them reconnect illegally.
The city’s head of electricity, Sandile Maphumulo, says the incident is not isolated.
On Friday, shack dwellers threw rocks and packets of faeces at council contractors and security guards who had disconnected illegal connections and confiscated stolen cables in Reservoir Hills.
The windscreen of a security vehicle was shattered and guards fled. Last week, security guard Wiseman Mthombeni was shot dead in nearby Sea Cow Lake in a row over illegal connections.
Sydenham police officers and Public Order Police Unit officers arrived at the Shannon Drive settlement on Friday after security officers were chased away.
By Saturday afternoon, about 200 households in the area had been without electricity for 42 hours.
Electricity was restored for an hour, then went off again.
After an emergency meeting on Friday night, called by ward councillor Themba Mtshali, municipal representatives and residents (rate-payers and informal) it was agreed the council would turn a blind eye to illegal connections and not enter the shack settlement to disconnect.
On Saturday Vincent Zondi of the eThekwini electricity department said of Shannon Drive: “While we seek a solution, we will allow the illegal connections and the guards will not enter to take the cables.”
On Friday, shack residents chanted “no power for one, no power for all” before they sabotaged the main electricity cable to Shannon Drive, pulling the plug on the 200 households. A shack dweller told the Tribune: “We need the electricity to carry on living. We do not feel safe without it and because so many of us are unemployed we have no choice but to steal it.”
Maphumulo said on Friday teams were sent to repair the cables, but the job was made difficult by angry shack dwellers.
“We do try to fix the problem, but we are met with a great level of difficulty because people start to fight with the teams there to assist legal, paying customers. We send our teams with security – and not just light security,” he said.
“Whenever we remove illegal connections, they just reconnect; they just cut the legal power cables. They shoot at our people. It’s not just a problem or challenge. The community has declared war on us. The electricity department can only rely on law enforcement agencies to assist us,” he said.
His colleague, Deena Govender, the municipality’s manager for commercial engineering and marketing, said cable and electricity theft accounted for a two to three percent loss in the municipality’s annual turnover or R120 million a year.
Govender said the municipality battled to balance the needs of paying residents with appeasing shack dwellers. He said the municipality was “turning a blind eye” to illegal connections.
DA caucus leader Tex Collins said ignoring illegal connections was “ludicrous”.
“They can fly a kite if they think that I will pay my electricity bill now. Why should normal residents continue to pay while those who don’t and threaten violence get away with it? They should be locked up.
“Why should these illegal residents be given carte blanche to run this city into bankruptcy? It’s total anarchy. What next – will we be buying them cars?” said Collins.
Minority Front caucus leader Patrick Pillay said it was wrong to allow illegal connections because it gave people false hope.
A ratepayer in Shannon Drive, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals from shack dwellers, said residents were fed up and scared. “How much more must we put up with? We pay our rates and for our electricity; yet we are being deprived. We are very vulnerable. All we ask is for an uninterrupted supply of electricity.”
Said another: “It is not fair for us to put up with this because the municipality cannot get its act together. It is their problem and they must not hide behind meetings, by-laws and red tape.”
Mtshali said although it was unfair for residents to be deprived of services they paid for, he disagreed with the municipal delivery of basic services. “Their processes are fraught with bureaucracy. That makes life unbearable for the have-nots. But something must be done, and we will engage the municipality,” he said. - Sunday Tribune