Executive Mayor Solly Msimanga; Martin Londt, the functional head and chief engineer from the City's electricity control centre; Ernst Botha, Ward 44 councillor; and Frans Manganye, divisional head of the energy and electricity unit at the Wapadrand substation. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)
Pretoria - For six long nights, residents and businesses across a swathe of eastern Pretoria have been without power. They’ve had to empty their fridges and go to family, friends or the gym to shower. Residents used to comfort had to light candles and buy takeaways. Some tired of the cold and dark, packed a bag and moved in with family or booked into a hotel.

The cause of the problem was a fire that engulfed the Wapadrand substation on Tuesday. Since then scores of staff from the city’s electricity department have literally worked around the clock to rebuild the substation. Repairing the substation could cost as much as R60million and take many months - but the priority was to get power restored as quickly as possible.

Initially, the hope was to get the station up again within two to three days. “However, when our technicians conducted further investigations, they discovered that the extent of damage and repair work was so severe (this was not possible),” council spokesperson Selby Bokaba said last week.

On Sunday executive mayor Solly Msimanga paid a visit to the substation, and assured residents that, hopefully, power would be restored soon - even by the time they woke up today. He spoke to the Pretoria News during his visit, and said engineers told him they were on track with their work and if no faults were found during testing, they could start restoring power to the area by Sunday night or on Monday.

The mayor urged residents, especially those running generators, to turn off main switches to city power to prevent any potential problems when power was restored. In notes shared on WhatsApp chat groups from councillors in the affected areas, the MMC for Infrastructure Darryl Moss said testing of the installed cables was continuing and no major problems had emerged.

He also said the area had been checked for cable trenches and cleared so he did not believe there was a risk of cable theft. “We will continue testing the high voltage system, then the medium voltage, then low voltage. Safety has to be paramount and we cannot afford any additional damage,” he said.

Residents have shown their appreciation to the technicians, even taking them food and coffee to keep them going. The substation was a hive of activity yesterday, and Msimanga said he popped in to see for himself the work being done to rebuild the station and provide power again to Wapadrand, Faerie Glen, Silver Lakes, Lombardy, Zwavelpoort and parts of Equestria.

The fire swept through the substation in less than half an hour, destroying all the electrical equipment in it. It resulted in one of the longest outages in recent times, and left an entire section of the city in the dark.

Some residents stopped at the substation on their way from church or Sunday lunch yesterday to see how work was progressing. Some had even set up braais not too far from the substation. Yesterday they cooked pap and meat to share with the workers. Friends Megan Prinsloo and Michelle Nolan, 24 and 26, from Equestria, arrived with 100 hot dogs for the workers, after having brought coffee in the morning.

Dineo Mafoho, also a resident affected by the outage, said that instead of being frustrated when she went to the substation, she was humbled by what she saw. “I’m here from church, and I was frustrated when there was still no power (at home), but coming here this whole situation just humbled me,” she said.

“I try so hard not to think about this, and each day is a different experience. We have been eating fast food since last week and using our phones as lights,” she said.

Moss told the Pretoria News last week that panels had been damaged in the fire and a new platform had to be built with 26 new circuit breaker panels which had to be wired and tested. He understood residents’ frustrations but said the City engineers and technicians greatly appreciated the support they had been getting from the community.

“It has been a great show of support and patience from some residents.”

Moss said it was presumed the fire had been caused by a panel inside the substation tripping due to a fault. However, further investigations would reveal the actual cause. “Please ensure that electricity safety is practised at all times. We thank the community for their patience and understanding during this difficult period,” he said.

Pretoria News