Cape Town - Eskom temporarily suspended its services to Harare in Khayelitsha after extortionists attempted to shake down its contractors for protection fees.
In a statement, Eskom announced it had withdrawn its services from the community with immediate effect in response to threats and intimidation tactics by alleged gangsters who were harassing its employees for not paying them monies to be in the area.
Eskom acting general manager Mbulelo Yedwa said gangsters were insisting operators leave or pay R20000 a month, and that criminals were breaking down essential infrastructure to create opportunities to shake down residents to be reconnected for R30.
“We have also been made aware that there’s a syndicate illegally connecting people for R1500 per household. These activities are what’s severely straining our network, especially during peak times when transformers are overloaded.
“The safety of our employees cannot be compromised, therefore we withdrew its services from Harare until community leaders and the SAPS guarantee it is safe to return,” Yedwa said.
Harare CPF chairperson Funeka Soldaat said while the forum was disturbed to learn of the extortion attempts against Eskom, it would be working alongside other community safety structures to ensure Eskom has safe passage in and out of the community when needed.
The Khayelitsha Development Forum (KDF) said the extortion of service providers and businesses in local communities was abhorrent.
KDF chairperson Ndithini Tyido said: “To hear that service providers have begun withdrawing services from the community in fear of being targeted by extortion rings is despicable. We have been calling on community stakeholders to come on board and help figure out a way to deal with the threat of these syndicates.”
Contrary to other community leaders’ perspective, Nyanga community leader Khaya Yozi said although there had been similar “threats” in Nyanga and Gugulethu, the attempts to extort service providers or businesses were made by youngsters looking to make easy money.
“I’m not disputing the experiences other communities have had, but it seems that this thing of ‘extortion’ is being exaggerated. Often you find that the people behind these incidents are young boys.
“However, that’s also not to say we condone these incidents. I believe it’s time communities speak up and speak out against these people. They’re not faceless, and should not be hidden,” he said.
Yozi said it would also favour of service providers to work with community safety structures or leaders when operating in local communities for support against alleged extortionists.
“In Nyanga and Gugulethu, we avail ourselves for service providers. We are willing to show up and stand by them as they work. But because community dynamics are different, I can’t speak for other areas,” he said.
The police have a Provincial Organised Crime Unit investigation team to deal with kidnapping and extortion cases. Police launched an integrated investigation team to deal with kidnapping and extortion cases under the Provincial Organised Crime unit.
Police spokesperson FC van Wyk said the unit’s strategies had proven successful and even resulted in arrests.
“The province deals with kidnappings in an organised crime-threat manner. Currently, the area of operation is in the Cape Town Metro, but as the need arises, responds to cases within the entire Western Cape,” Van Wyk said.
The department of Community Safety and Police Oversight is also part of the integrated extortion committee.
Police Oversight and Community Safety MEC Reagen Allen said he was pleased with the co-operation of the various stakeholders within the committee.
Meanwhile, the City’s Urban Mobility Directorate said it had also come under attack in local communities, allegedly by extortionists who wanted to ransom services to the area.
Mayco member Rob Quintas said: “This department has also experienced extortion on various projects. When this occurs, officials attempt to resolve these situations as best as they can.”
The City also said it had taken to asking the public to come forward and give information on extortionists through its Public Emergency Communication Centre.
City spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo said the City’s Safety and Security Directorate had revived its Informant Reward policy to encourage people to share information that assists law enforcement to apprehend suspects involved in the theft and vandalism of critical infrastructure.