eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo says threats of a total blackout in the city in the next 24 hours by striking workers at the municipalitys main electricity depot in Springfield are being taken very seriously. Picture: Jennifer Bruce
eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo says threats of a total blackout in the city in the next 24 hours by striking workers at the municipalitys main electricity depot in Springfield are being taken very seriously. Picture: Jennifer Bruce

Blackout looms for Durban

By YOGAS NAIR Time of article published Jul 7, 2011

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Threats of a total blackout in the city in the next 24 hours by striking workers at the eThekwini municipality’s main electricity depot in Springfield are being taken very seriously. That’s according to Mayor James Nxumalo.

Samwu secretary-general Nanhlanhla Nyandeni confirmed that disgruntled workers had vowed to “make electricity ungovernable” if city officials fail to urgently address their grievances.

“The Springfield depot services all the main sub-stations in the municipality. Any electrical fault or power outage could go unattended if the sit-in continues. This could eventually result in a total electricity shutdown in the city.”

“There is speculation that the other departments in the municipality could join the strike. If this happens, it could cripple the city.”

Nxumalo has called for calm and time to discuss the issue with city manager Michael Sutcliffe.

“I am expected to meet with the city manager on Thursday. This issue needs serious intervention so the people of our municipality do not suffer. The threats of a blackout are being taken seriously.”

Workers had been on an illegal strike at the depot since Monday.

Nyandeni said they were unhappy with the appointment of strategic executive Raj Dhrochand, which they found to be “irregular”.

They are also calling for the dismissal of the head of electricity Sandile Maphumulo, and senior human resource officer Vincent Mthembu. They are accused of hiring Dhrochand without following procedure, Nyandeni said.

In 2008, Dhrochand resigned from his position as deputy head in the electricity department to go abroad. He subsequently returned in 2009, and approached the city for a job.

In September 2009 he was re-employed to oversee all strategic projects in the electricity department.

An arbitration hearing on Saturday found in Dhrochand’s favour. The award found that his appointment was in accordance with municipal procedures for the appointment of a supernumerary – a position that is created for a specific purpose.

Nyandeni said after the news of Dhrochand’s victory, workers had downed tools.

When the Daily News visited the depot on Tuesday, angry workers brandishing axes, pangas and sticks were toy-toying inside the depot yard. No vehicles were allowed onto the premises.

They appeared aggressive and even refused to allow Metro police inside.

Dhrochand said he was not intimidated by the workers.

“I am a qualified electrical engineer with a masters degree in business leadership. I also have a government certificate of competency. I am more than qualified for the job.”

He said he was being targeted because in the past 21 months he had chaired disciplinary enquiries and had the unfortunate task of dismissing Samwu members. This had made him unpopular with the union and workers, he said.

Attempts to contact Maphumulo and Mthembu for comment were unsuccessful. – Daily News

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