Families in a number of eThekwini suburbs have been struggling without electricity for days after death threats from striking municipal workers stopped contractors from repairing power outages causedby cable thefts and alleged sabotage.
Striking workers have also formed human barricades around electricity depots, further hindering the city’s attempts to fix faults.
It could take days for electricity to be restored as the municipal strike rages into its second
week and contractors refuse to conduct repairs after allegations of death threats and intimidation.
More than 200 000 SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) members downed tools on Monday last week and 70 000 Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu) members joined on Friday.
Samwu has demanded 18%, with a minimum of R2 000, but the SA Local Government Association (Salga) offered 6.8%.
Since Saturday morning, parts of Tongaat, Seatides, Phoenix, Redhill, Sea Cow Lake, Newlands West, the Durban CBD, Morningside and Reservoir Hills have been without electricity.
Other affected areas include the Stanger CBD, Indian Village, Sunny Park and High Ridge.
In Pietermaritzburg, Lincoln Meade, Hayfields, Scottsville, Pelham and the CBD have been without power since yesterday morning.
Police provincial spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge, said police received reports that individuals who were part of the strike action were engaging in “acts of criminality”.
“We found that those who are attempting to render essentialservices, such as the repair of electrical faults, were being threatened and intimidated out of performing these duties.”
He said strikers had also been vandalising property.
“These people must be prepared to face the full might of the law – they have every right to strike, but this lawlessness is unacceptable,” he said.
Minority Front Councillor Preggie Padayachee said he had been trying to get to the electricity control centre in Jels Taylor Road since Saturday.
“The striking workers are everywhere. It’s impossible to get near any of the depots or call centres. I have lodged telephonic complaints on behalf of residents. But the situation looks bleak.”
He said some contractors and electricians received personal phone calls telling them if they went out to conduct repairs, they would be shot and killed.
“I have spoken to some of the contractors and they are not prepared to risk their lives or that of their staff. This means areas could be without electricity for days.”
He encouraged those who suffered losses with regard to perishable goods and electrical appliances damaged by power surges to lodge insurance claims with the municipality.
“Some people have not had lights for more than 48 hours. They have lost hundreds of rands worth of perishable goods.
“They must make an insurance claim to try to recover their losses. The municipality will investigate and if negligence is found on their side, the claim will be paid out.”
Pietermaritzburg resident Nirupa Garib said the Newholmes area was affected by power outages.
“We haven’t had electricity from 1pm yesterday. Nothing’s been done. The municipality says their technicians are aware but there were too many problems and they didn’t have the time to sort out the area.
“On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, it was the same story but power was restored after approximately 4-5 hrs.”
Imatu shop steward Adriaan Williams said the reason contractors had not been able to go out and fix the problem was because they were not allowed access to the main electricity depots in Springfield, Phoenix and Malaika Road.
“No council vehicles can go in or come out of the depots. Striking workers have formed a human barricade. Anyone who tries to defy them has been threatened with assault. Workers are very angry and in my opinion any threats should be taken seriously.”
He said an Imatu shop steward was hospitalised at the weekend after he was allegedly attacked by an angry mob.
“Some striking workers wanted him to remove all Imatu workers from their duties. When he refused, he was assaulted.”
Williams said a meter reader from Pinetown was also hospitalised after he was also allegedly assaulted by striking workers on Saturday.
“The situation is going to get much worse. Imatu will only call off strike action once the municipality starts talking double digit figures. We do not condone violence. But, at the same time it is hard to control.”
Samwu General Secretary Mthandeki Nhlapo said the union did not associate itself with “such behaviour”.
He said he was appalled by such activity and that if any members were found to be part of the illegal activities by police, they would be dealt with accordingly by the union.
Head of electricity, Sandile Maphumulo, said they were trying their best to keep the levels of service delivery running despite the many challenges, but had “limited resources to work with”.
“We are doing our best and pray this strikes comes to an end soon.”