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Carping Point: Joburg CBD gas explosion - the system remains rotten

The site of the Johannesburg CBD gas explosion. Picture: Timothy Bernard / African News Agency (ANA).

The site of the Johannesburg CBD gas explosion. Picture: Timothy Bernard / African News Agency (ANA).

Published Jul 22, 2023


Johannesburg - This week City Power, Johannesburg’s metropolitan power supplier, announced that it would no longer replace electrical wiring stolen by cable thieves. Instead it would be up to the residents themselves to look after their own infrastructure – or pay the price, literally.

It’s a helluva statement, topped only by the fact that Lilian Ngoyi (formerly Bree) Street blew up spectacularly on Wednesday, faithfully captured by citizen journalists.

At a certain level, City Power’s warning appears to be another instance of a state institution washing its hands of its responsibilities; hot on the heels of the SAPS, the department of education, state health and Eskom. But read a different way, it makes sense. As consumers we are responsible for the cables between the mainline and our dwellings. It is also that juncture which is targeted to patch on illegal connections.

The utility has its hands full trying to take down illegal connections as fast as they are put up, replacing cables only to find thousands of kilograms of stolen cables, copper and aluminium, when they raid the houses that have been illegally connected.

Emergency personnel and members of the law enforcement continue to monitor damages caused by the gas explosion that took place yesterday along Bree street in the Joburg CBD. Picture: Itumeleng English / African News Agency (ANA)

It is an untenable situation. It’s lawless. It’s unsustainable; both the cost of the power that is illegally leached off the local grid and the cost to repair the vandalism wrought on the infrastructure. So, what can you do except lay down the law? If people are held responsible, then maybe the corner will be turned on cable theft. We are expected to behave responsibly when it comes to safeguarding our possessions and our homes, why should our electrical supply be any different?

We have to start somewhere and maybe this week was a start, but it is ominous. We are a violent society, with a police force that is more buggeration factor than actually serving and protecting, so there’s a tendency for many of us to take the law into our own hands.

We can’t afford a situation where people start getting lynched in the streets for cable theft, but there’s a huge chance that precisely that could happen. We’ve seen it before; we forget it wasn’t just police informers that were necklaced in townships 40 years ago; common criminals, rapists and murderers got their comeuppance too.

The system was rotten, that’s why. It was rotten too, 120 years ago, when the Boer War began. There’s a tendency today to fetishise the conflict as the little guys sticking it to the might of the British empire, who were egged on by the proto-state capturer supreme, Cecil Rhodes.

That’s one version, but it ignores an inconvenient detail: President Paul Kruger’s South African Republic was deeply corrupted and rotten to the core with tenderpreneurs and bent policemen too. That was the seed. That, and the incredible wealth of the goldfields too.

The system is still rotten today. But now we have acid mine drainage and zama zamas burrowing away and blasting with no thought of the consequences on the surface. Like cable theft, it simply isn’t sustainable. But who is expected to step up and stop it? Us? The politicians certainly can’t.

The Saturday Star