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Durban - A decision taken by public protector Thuli Madonsela on Friday to award damages to a resident whose household appliances were destroyed during a power failure will have far-reaching consequences for all electricity users across the country.
EThekwini municipality’s Sibusiso Sithole said on Friday that the case would set a precedent for electricity users in Durban.
The municipality, he said, will now have to “regroup” and “rethink” how it will approach similar claims brought against the municipality in future.
Over the years many Durbanites have tried unsuccessfully to claim for damaged electrical goods and have had to claim from their insurance or pay for replacements out of their own pockets.
“This case can open doors for other residents,” Sithole said, adding that the landmark decision will have huge financial implications for municipalities.
“We will keep a close eye on how the case pans out, but Madonsela’s decision is not final and can be reviewed.”
Sithole’s comments come after Madonsela upheld a claim of R18 407 by a Ms M Taliep of Flamingo Crescent in Lansdowne against the City of Cape Town.
Taliep claimed that in February 2011 several appliances, including a laptop, a phone charger, a fridge, a microwave oven, a telephone charger, a washing machine, and an energy saving light bulb were either destroyed or damaged as a result of an electrical power surge.
The city’s insurance department rejected Taliep’s claim.
In correspondence conducted over months, it informed her that an investigation found that the malfunction at the substation was due to vandalism or theft of neutral copper bars.
The city said since it had “no control” over criminal activities, it could not be held accountable for negligence and therefore was not liable for the damage.
But Mandonsela, in a report sent to Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille in January, found that the failure to maintain the sub-station amounted to maladministration.
She held the council responsible and ordered it not only to settle with Taliep within 30 days but to apologise to her in writing for the inconvenience caused by the delay in finalising the matter.
Madonsela cited section 25 of the Electricity Regulation Act, pointing out that it placed a burden of rebuttal of presumption of negligence on the city in the event of a dispute arising out of damages caused by the supply of electricity.
Citing vandalism statistics, she said that such acts were a common occurrence in the area and therefore something the council could and should have foreseen and addressed.
She ordered the city manager to ensure that the security measures at the Kanarieway sub-station complied with national energy supply standards.
She told the city to urgently amend the local electricity supply by-law to make it consistent with Section 25 of the act.
A member of the Cape Town mayoral committee, Ernest Sonnenberg, said the city was studying Madonsela’s decision.
eThekwini Municipal manager Sibusiso Sithole said the case could have huge implications for the city if Durban residents were to lodge similar claims. Because of situations beyond the city’s control, like cable theft, storm damage and power failures, the municipality can’t take a “blanket” approach and allow resident to claim “willy nilly”.
“If the municipality takes all the necessary precautions to prevent such incidents and they still occur, then it can’t be held liable when damages occur,” he said.
The city’s electricity department senior manager Deena Govender said in a case similar to that of Taliep’s the city would not pay out for damages. But following on Friday’s decision he said his department would need to relook at its policies.
Chairwoman of the Combined Ratepayers Association Lillian Develing welcomed Madonsela’s decision, saying it would allow frustrated Durban residents who had been experienced several blackouts to take the city to task.
Municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng said: “We get a number of such claims on a regular basis and these are assessed thoroughly and investigation is conducted by insurance guys to see who should be held liable.”
Independent on Saturday