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Destruction left in wake of fibre roll-out raises ire of eThekwini residents

Fibre being rolled out. File Picture. Photographer Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency(ANA)

Fibre being rolled out. File Picture. Photographer Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jun 23, 2021

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Durban - Communities in suburbs across Durban are up in arms over the trail of destruction left by fibre installation contractors.

The contractors are hitting in underground water pipes and knocking over electricity poles, causing massive water and electricity outages.

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As telecommunication companies embark on massive installations of fibre to homes across the city, communities are at their wits’ end as they deal with the outages caused by the bumbling contractors.

Some observers say the contractors are either unable to read the infrastructure plans the city gave them or they do not have them.

Many residents have complained about contracting leaving trenches open, not collecting rubble or damaging roads. They describe the fibre roll-out as “chaos”.

Many of the DA councillors in Durban are receiving the brunt of ratepayers’ anger.

In a scenario that is mirrored in suburbs across Durban, residents of a road in Manor Gardens were without water for more than 48 hours on Wednesday, after a fibre contractor hit a water pipe.

As city plumbers were repairing it on Tuesday, it sprang another leak.

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Residents said that instead of repairing the new leak, the plumber left at 2pm because his shift had ended. The next team arrived on site after 11am on Wednesday.

Ashwin Singh, a resident of Manor Gardens, said the fibre installation in his neighbourhood was a “comedy of errors”, compounded by the lack of city plumbers to fix the leaks timeously.

He said that after being without water since 9am on Monday, the municipality sent a water tanker to his street on Wednesday only, at 11am.

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“We have made numerous calls to the city to try to get this problem resolved. When I spoke to someone at the municipality, they said that they are inundated with water leaks because of the fibre installations that are happening across the city. They are usually able to fix a water leak quickly but because there are so many leaks now because of the fibre installations they are inundated,” he said.

Trenches in Phoenix left open

Questions have been raised about who is responsible for the repairs and whether those contracted for the trenching work are qualified and know what they are doing.

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EThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the laying of fibre was not a city project; it was being done by private companies.

“All the installers must submit their paperwork before they can be approved to do any work. They are also made aware of the location of our power lines and water infrastructure, depending on where they will be working.

“As per their agreement with the City, they are also liable for all damages and expenses to repair damages incurred during the installations.”

Mayisela said the roads and stormwater maintenance department had a dedicated clerk of works who monitored the contractors and ensured on-site compliance.

“They are the first point of contact in the event of any damages or non-compliance. They are also entitled to stop work in case of major transgression,” he said.

“We urge residents who would like to report or find out more information about the fibre installations in the area to call roads and stormwater maintenance on 031 322 7241. All damages should be reported to this number as well, so that the offending parties can be dealt with.

“We have received some complaints from residents and these are always attended to with speed.”

Nicole Graham, the DA leader in the eThekwini Municipality, said the DA was concerned about the city’s handling of the fibre installations.

“Despite repeatedly trying to resolve these issues with city management, it was clear that they were unwilling or unable to stop the chaos that was happening in Durban,” she said.

She said that answers submitted by the city to questions regarding the fibre roll-out revealed that the city had resumed granting wayleave applications to fibre network operators, despite there being no regulatory by-laws in place and no fibre network operator being charged any amount for damaging infrastructure of property as “no such mechanism exists”.

“The questions reveal that this problem has been ongoing for the past two years but do not explain why no steps have been taken by the municipality to develop better mechanisms for handling problems that arise.

“ In addition to the damage to water, electricity, storm water and roads infrastructure, it is clear that most areas are not returned to their original state. This is despite the wayleave agreements demanding it, including natural elements like grass,” Graham said.

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