Johannesburg - A police armoured vehicle was set alight, at least two police officers were wounded and businesses were looted when irate residents of Zandspruit informal settlement in Honeydew, north-west of Joburg, protested against electricity cuts on Wednesday.
The residents also barricaded routes with palisade fencing and an assortment of objects to protest against Eskom’s decision to disconnect illegal power connections from some of the street lights along Beyers Naudé Drive.
The power utility said residents have made it a habit to wait for its officials to leave the area after disconnecting the illegally connected wires, before reconnecting them again.
Eskom had no choice but to cut the power to any source from where residents could tap power by completely switching off the lights, the utility’s spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said.
While this would leave the area in the dark, he said this was the only way to stop their illegal connections and not put motorists and other road uses at risk if the wires fell on them or their vehicles.
“Previously, we would remove the wires but the electricity would still flow because the street lights were where they were tapping the power from. Those street lights were their distribution,” Phasiwe pointed out.
“The rationale behind disconnecting power from the street lights is that it is dangerous to have wires criss-crossing the streets. We had to do what the Department of Labour was saying, that if someone was to be killed or injured, we would be held liable.
“The safest thing is to not have power flowing in the area.”
Phasiwe said there were about 16 000 shacks at Zandspruit and that many of those households had illegal connections, while the 286 RDP houses in the area were formally connected to the grid.
Eskom had in the past gone to the area to disconnect the illegally connected wires, but on Wednesday things turned sour when residents resisted and police had to be brought in to manage the situation.
Police spokesman Kay Makhubela said police had to fire rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. Two officers were injured when they found themselves at the mercy of the angry residents after their car broke down deep inside the squatter camp.
“Their vehicle got a puncture when they were inside the squatter camp and residents pelted them with stones,” he said.
Phasiwe said Eskom workers had gone to Zandspruit on Monday and Tuesday but there was no violence, although they had the police with them.
He believes the reason they were able to do their job without a hitch was because it was “almost as if we had taken them (residents) by surprise.
“But today (on Wednesday), the residents were able to mobilise as they were intimidating Eskom officers and throwing rocks at the police,” he said.
Phasiwe said the City of Joburg was working on formalising the settlement, and Eskom would move in and electrify it once this was completed.
The situation remained tense.