21/02/2014. Delano's Restuarant in Kolonade Mall is one of the few restuarants opened but uses generators and candles for power. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - Power outages that hit several suburbs, businesses and surrounding rural areas in the Pretoria north and north-eastern regions this week were the biggest since Eskom’s rolling blackouts of 2007.

“We have never gone for such a long period without electricity – not since the first load shedding a few years ago. But then, with load shedding, at least we knew power would be off for a few hours. This time around, we are in the dark and having to rely on online updates from the City of Tshwane,” said Berdine Kruger, centre manager of Kolonnade shopping centre in Montana Park.

“On Thursday, they said power would be restored today, but here we are still in the dark.”

Kameeldrift, Zeekoeigat, Derdepoort, Doornpoort, Montana, Kolonnade and surrounding areas were plunged into darkness late on Wednesday after the Pumulani 132kv substation was gutted by fire following heavy rains.

Kruger said the impact of the outages was massive, especially for smaller traders that had no back-up power sources.

In the past three days, Kolonnade had more tenants and their staff members than shoppers.

At Delano’s restaurant, the owner opted to create a romantic atmosphere by lighting candles and continuing trade.

Kruger was referring to the later months of 2007 when South Africa started experiencing widespread rolling blackouts as supply fell behind demand, threatening to destabilise the national grid.

The situation has repeated itself this week. All roads in the affected areas were congested as traffic lights were non-functional.

The roaring sounds of generators filled the air as businesses sought alternative power to stay in trade. The Kameeldrift East Police Station was also running on generator power.

According to residents in the vicinity of the substation, there was a loud bang at the facility, followed by smoke just before 5pm on Wednesday. Emergency services were immediately alerted.

In no time, the place was on fire and the roof was collapsing by the time emergency personnel arrived about 30 minutes after the fire started, according to neighbours. They had to cut the locks to access the facility.

The City of Tshwane said the power was expected to be restored to all the customers late on Friday, but this had yet to happen at the time of going to press.

Melanie Lynn, a resident in one of the affected areas, said: “My family has been using a gas stove since the power went off. Children sit (by) candlelight doing schoolwork. This has been a huge inconvenience for the community. We cannot buy takeaways because most businesses have closed.”

City of Tshwane spokesman Selby Bokaba said the municipal energy and electricity technical team had been working non-stop to restore the power since Wednesday, but was disturbed by rain. “The cause of the fire is still unknown, but suspicions are that it was caused by a heavy lightning strike. We apologise unconditionally to our customers,” he said.

Residents believe water may have seeped into the substations, pointing to the fact that the thunderstorm took place on Tuesday, not on Wednesday when the fire broke out.

In 2008, Tshwane officials appealed to residents to use electricity sparingly after lightning damaged a transformer at the same power station.

This affected power supply to Pumulani, Montana, Hartbeesfontein and Zeekoeigat.

[email protected]

Pretoria News Weekend