A Joburg City Power-led operation to disconnect the power at four hijacked buildings had to be abandoned midway through on Wednesday after residents of two buildings made threats and revolted against the officials cutting the power.
Officials managed to disconnect the power at one of the four buildings, but they were forced to abandon the mission after residents made threats against officials and a delegation of journalists who were reporting on the matter.
The SA Police Services conducted a risk assessment and advised against the continuation of the operation due to a lack of sufficient personnel.
This ensured that residents of two of the hijacked buildings along Betty Street in Joburg were able to prevent Revenue Protection Teams from cutting off electricity.
The City of Johannesburg is owed over R10 billion in unpaid electricity bills, while the four buildings targeted on Wednesday owed the city over R20 million combined. Among the four buildings, they had last paid the city an electricity bill in 2017.
City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena had said before the operation that some of the buildings were occupied by "suspected illegal and extremely violent occupants".
Joburg City Power chief executive Tshifularo Mashava said they were putting the safety of their workers first.
"When it became clear that tensions were high and the lives of the team were threatened by the residents, we had to pull out as a safety precaution, but we agreed with the law enforcement agencies that we should return with a beefed-up police force equipped to handle crowd control situations.
"As City Power, we have a list of hijacked buildings that we are targeting and that we are going to visit in the coming weeks to remove our electricity infrastructure," she said.
City officials said the hijacked buildings were a serious danger to the residents themselves and were a fire hazard.
Meanwhile, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi on Wednesday announced the terms of reference of the commission of inquiry into the deadly Marshalltown tragedy of August 31. The fire at the Usindiso Building in Marshalltown in the Johannesburg CBD, which occurred in the early hours of Thursday, August 31, claimed at least 77 lives and left dozens more injured, wounded, and homeless.
Recently, Angela Rivers, the chairperson of the Joburg Property Owners and Managers Association, said that there were at least 57 hijacked buildings in the Joburg Inner City.
More than 200 families were displaced when the Usindiso Building in Marshalltown caught fire,leaving over 75 people dead.
At this stage, the cause of the fire is still unknown.
Some of the residents have been moved to shelters in Hillbrow, Jeppestown, and Bezuidenhout Valley, while some of the occupants refused to be moved to shelters, fearing they would be in trouble with authorities due to their status in the country.