Cape Town - “People get burnt and die because of these illegal connections. We know it is a risk, but we need electricity,” said a man who wanted to be known only as Mzizi from the Marikana informal settlement in Philippi.
However, he said, they are well prepared for the dangers posed by these connections – they even have circuit breakers.
Mzizi said they have been waiting for electricity for a long time, which is why they steal it from Eskom boxes.
“Some of us get paid monthly and we buy meat in bulk to last us the whole month. Tell me, without electricity, how the meat and other stuff we put in fridges will be like?” asked Mzizi.
He hoped Eskom will provide them with electricity but, until then, they will continue to use illegal connections. The residents the Cape Argus spoke to were busy improving or fixing their connections.
Another resident, who did not want to be named, said: “As you can see, we are doing this during the day. We are not hiding it from anyone, meaning we are not stealing but taking what we need.”
He said there are many electricians in the area who helped them fix or make connections. The resident had a light with him, which he used to test if the connection was working. He said the electricity connections often burned and destroyed their electric appliances.
Another resident said without electricity they could not make a living.
“Some of us have businesses that use refrigerators, so without electricity life is difficult,” she said.
Eskom held a media briefing on public safety and a media tour of the Marikana settlement, which they consider a high-risk area with illegal connections.
Eskom said : “While most South Africans get their electricity legitimately, some still endanger their lives by opting for illegal connections, which often lead to serious or fatal injuries.”
“An electricity connection is considered illegal when it is made to the Eskom network without Eskom’s permission or by uncertified Eskom personnel.
“Such a connection could either be to a mini sub-station or a neighbour’s meter or transformers, in some instances.
“Vandals and cable thieves also endangered people as they often left hazardous wires exposed.”
Provincial head for Eskom, Alwie Lester, said: “One of our top priorities at Eskom is safety and this extends to everyone, including our employees, contractors, consumers, as well as the general public.”
Lester said as part of their commitment to “zero harm”, they would ask communities to help them eliminate the various hazards brought about by the unsafe use or connections of electricity.
“We want to avoid electricity-related injuries and fatalities in all our communities. Our visit to Marikana is one part of our drive to work with communities towards a safer environment,” he said.
Lester said in their last financial year, they had had 25 external incidents, comprising 19 injuries and six deaths.
Close to 30 percent was children.