Soweto residents have resorted to barricading roads to make their voices heard. Pictures: Bhekikhaya Mabaso, ANA
Soweto residents have resorted to barricading roads to make their voices heard. Pictures: Bhekikhaya Mabaso, ANA

Lights out in Soweto as blame game rages on

By Lesego Makgatho Time of article published Sep 21, 2021

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At a time when the country is gearing up for local government elections, some areas are going up in smoke over electricity woes.

Soweto residents have resorted to barricading roads to make their voices heard. Pictures: Bhekikhaya Mabaso, ANA

Last Thursday, residents of Diepkloof Zone 3 barricaded the Soweto Highway with rocks and burning tyres, causing an obstruction on Immink Drive and Eben Cuyler Drive. Residents in the area were protesting about not having electricity.

Community protests over power outages have become commonplace in Soweto.

The residents in the area said there are so many terms around some of the power cuts that have taken place in recent times. There’s “load-shedding, load reduction and blackouts”. They say a new term is needed for what they experience because they go for months without power.

Households in Diepkloof Zone 3 have had it extremely tough over the past few months. One such household is that of the Tlous. The family of six have not had power for two months.

“It feels as though we have gone back to the old days of burning wood to make fire. Every time we prepare for school, we have to boil water for the kids to get ready for school. We make sure we buy food that is enough for the day as it cannot go overnight. It will rot. This, unfortunately, is very costly for us. We use a gas stove to do our everyday chores and cooking,” said Malefu Tlou.

The 34-year-old works as a cleaner. She lives with her unemployed mother, her sister, her four-year-old daughter, and her sister’s daughters, aged 16 and 18.

The household uses wood, paraffin, gas and candles for lighting and cooking. Everyone battles to charge phones and laptops.

Tlou said the situation affected her nieces’ school performance. “They cannot use their laptop and have very limited use of their phones. It is frustrating,” she said.

She added that her family’s monthly spend included candles and a 10kg gas cylinder, which costs R230 to fill and lasts only two weeks. Spending on food and other expenses had more than doubled.

Mpho Lefa, who is also a resident of Diepkloof Zone 3, says they haven’t had electricity in the area, which falls under Ward 29, for two months. Residents say they had a meeting with their ward 29 councillor, Brenda Dammie, who would have a meeting with Eskom to chart the way forward regarding the demands the parastatal has placed on residents.

“We haven’t had electricity for weeks now. We had a meeting with our ward councillor on how we resolve this matter with Eskom. Eskom is expecting us to pay R6 000 per household. We are not saying we don’t want to pay the debt we owe, but we are saying that R6 000 is too much,” said Lefa.

Dammie said they are working with the community to resolve the matter.

“The issue of electricity has been going on for a while in the ward. We look to address the matter and resolve it as best as we can,” she said.

Eskom Gauteng spokesperson Tumi Mashishi said illegal connections are to blame for the lack of electricity.

“Residents are protesting against disconnections effected for illegal connections, meter bypasses and tampering, purchasing tokens from ghost vendors and illegal connections.”

Diepkloof Zone 3 and Orlando East are not the only areas that have experienced power cuts.

It’s been weeks, and the community of Naledi, Soweto, is still without electricity. They also barricaded the roads and streets with rocks and burning tyres over the past week, wanting their voices heard. Areas such as Mndeni and Phiri have also not had electricity for a while now.

November last year, by-elections were delayed in Naledi when some residents blocked polling stations, demanding their electricity to be restored.

It's unclear exactly why the electricity was switched off, but some are saying it is due to the failure of a local mini substation.

Tsietsi Molefe, who owns a tavern in Naledi, hasn't been operating for six months. He had to close shop, not only due to lockdown restrictions but due to lack of electricity as well.

"It's been a long battle with Eskom. Our major meter box has been faulty. We've tried to report it to Eskom, but we, as the community of Naledi, are not taken seriously. Our lives have been affected for the last couple of months. I used to run a tavern. It was the busiest tavern here in Naledi. I've had to close shop because I couldn't continue," he shared.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura visited the area last year following the uproar from the community. According to residents, the resolution that was reached was that electricity would be restored in the area by the end of November last year.

"Premier Makhura promised that by the end of November last year, the meter box would be fixed and that the power would be restored. It was restored, but we’ve found ourselves in the same situation once again. It’s been a month without power," said Molefe.

Residents of the area cited corruption, speculating that the meter box allocated to them had been sold to a different area that experienced the same issue.

"When we, as the community, marched to Megawatt Park (Eskom headquarters) last year, we were told the meter box that was supposed to be allocated to us for replacement was ready for installation. The problem lies with the technicians within the parastatal. They sell it in order for it to be installed elsewhere. It's all corruption," said Molefe.

Not too far from Naledi is Mndeni, where residents have also not had electricity for three weeks. This has allegedly been caused by a transformer in the area which is faulty.

A pastor in the Mndeni community, Dumisani Mbuli, said 96 homes had been affected by the faulty transformer in a section of the township.

"The transformer, which connects the section of 96 homes, is damaged. It's an old transformer. It's been in the area since the 80s. It exploded and affected all 96 households. It's been three weeks now."

Residents of Mndeni say most of them are unemployed and don't have the capacity to pay for electricity.

Mduduzi Gumede, who lives in Mndeni, said it's difficult for him to prepare meals with no electricity.

"Food rots in the house due to lack of refrigeration. I ask friends from the section nearby where there is electricity to keep certain foods for me. But it's not easy. This has been going on for three weeks now. We, as a community, don't feel like Eskom cares about us here on the ground nor wants to engage us. We’d rather not vote in this country. What are we voting for then?" he said.

Ward 130 councillor, Thulani Buthelezi, said they are hopeful the matter will be resolved as they have taken it up with Eskom.

“We are engaging with the Premier’s office together with Eskom, and we are hopeful that the issue will be resolved by the end of this month,” he said.

Tumi Mashishi from Eskom said the parastatal is looking into the areas where faulty transformers have been reported.

On why this has gone on for this long, according to Mashishi, as part of its operations, Eskom conducts audits to determine the cause/source of a fault. This includes the removal of illegal connections and meter tampers. Disconnections are effected, and fines are issued for contraventions.

“Faulty transformers have been reported to us in areas such as Mndeni and Naledi.

Supply will be restored in the area upon the repairing of the faulty transformer. While we hope to restore this by the end of the month, it may take a while, as the damage will have to be looked into,” said Mashishi.

Sunday Independent

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