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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

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Sparks fly over eThekwini Municipality's decision not to renew city electrical contracts

Sparks fly over eThekwini Municipality's decision not to renew city electrical contracts. File Picture Leon Lestrade/ANA

Sparks fly over eThekwini Municipality's decision not to renew city electrical contracts. File Picture Leon Lestrade/ANA

Published Jan 6, 2022


DURBAN - ELECTRICITY contractors who were employed by the eThekwini Municipality fear there will be “war” in the streets of Durban following the city’s decision not to renew their contracts.

They have been holding protests outside the Durban City Hall over the past two days.

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The group first marched to the city hall on Tuesday where they delivered a memorandum to the city and demanded a response by yesterday. When there was none, they continued with the protest.

The contracts were not renewed because the municipality had embarked on a process to appoint “new contractors”.

But when a complaint was lodged against this process, it was halted.

The contractors implied that if their contracts were not renewed, or they were not reappointed, those who did get the contracts would be in for a tough time.

The city condemned the conduct of the contractors, saying they should refrain from conducting themselves in an illegal manner.

The contractors, speaking on condition of anonymity and through intermediaries, made several allegations:

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For the past few years there had been no new contracts issued by the municipality and existing contracts were just continuously renewed.

There were senior officials in the electricity unit who had their own companies that were contracted to do work and these officials also received “benefits” from other companies employed by the unit as contractors.

Some of the contractors were made to subcontract work to the business forums after they were threatened.

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The municipality said the allegations were not true.

One contractor said they would not take the matter lying down.

“You are going to see fights, people will be assaulted and cars burned, we cannot be sitting at home after so many years of service.”

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The contractor said that for at least the past five years no new contracts had been advertised and instead the contracts were simply being renewed.

“There was a rumour that contracts had again been renewed till the end of March (this year), but on December 24, they told us to go home as the contracts were finished, that was their Christmas present to us after so many years.

“In the past five years, since there were no new contracts being issued, we received no increase.

“There are two staff members in the electricity unit that have contracts and are getting benefits from other companies that are employed as contractors.

“We supplement the municipal staff, in some areas we attend to more than 10 calls a day.

“Can you imagine how many people are sitting at home without electricity today as we are not working?” he asked.

Another electricity contractor, speaking through an intermediary, said he was afraid that violence could break out.

“The net effect of this is that the work by contractors has completely stopped and as such if there are faults that need to be repaired, they are being done only by the municipal staff, which means it will take much longer for those faults to be repaired due to capacity issues,” said the intermediary.

Municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela called for calm and urged contractors not to engage in “negative behaviour that sought to undermine the authority of the state”.

He said a process to appoint contractors had been under way when it was challenged by some contractors and as a result it had been halted.

“We cannot continue with the awards if others have lodged appeals. We urge these contractors to allow the municipal processes to run their course. We are very concerned, as a city as we cannot be held to ransom.

“Contracts have a start date and an end date. Just because there was once a contract, it does no mean we are now married forever,” he said.

Mayisela said anyone with information that city officials in the unit had companies or were benefiting from criminal activities should provide that information to the municipality.

DA councillor Nicole Graham called for the city’s political leadership to intervene.

“It’s clear that the electricity department is in a bad way, and an increased number of faults, a collapsed call centre and lacklustre maintenance have left many residents in the dark.

“Councillors report that the threats and chaos have led to electricity officials not being available in their wards,” she said.