Johannesburg – The City of Joburg has 211 informal settlements and the number is growing daily. This is resulting in the huge increase of illegal connections and power outages to neighbouring suburbs, as well as the overloading of the power grid which often causes substations to blow up.
Joburg residents have expressed fury at the constant cuts which sometimes last for days, over and above load shedding. They fear that, besides the inconvenience, the cuts could impact on people using ventilators after being affected by Covid-19.
Chris Stewart, who lives in Roodepoort, says power failures are a frequent occurrence, on top of load shedding.
“The functioning of any modern civilisation is dependent on reliable electricity supply. It is not a luxury but an essential service. That there are people on ventilators in the era of Covid is a lot worse than losing a fridge full of food. Many people are forced to work from home during the pandemic. This means being fully reliant on electricity,” he said.
Stewart said residents in this area had been promised an upgrade to their electricity infrastructure for over 25 years, being told "it is in the budget", but still they wait.
“That the same feeder cables are stolen frequently shows a woeful lack of adequate security measures. As the cellphone operators will attest, relatively inexpensive security mechanisms exist to detect and instantaneously report equipment movement. Such devices would pay for themselves in a single incident,” he said.
About 40 years ago, Joburg had a state-of-the-art custom-made supervisory, control and data acquisition (Scada) system to manage its entire electrical supply network – including Kelvin and Orlando power stations, the switching yards and all substations, no matter how small.
“Any abnormal situation was instantly detected, alerted and acted on. Heuristic algorithms enabled potential failures to be identified before they became a problem, as did sophisticated analysis of the historic data captured. The City thrived to be as self-sufficient as possible, managing its consumption from Eskom carefully to control expense.”
Today, when superior Scada systems were available off the shelf, residents had been reduced to dealing with the City's abysmally inefficient help desk system to inform the City of a fault and action was painfully slow, he said.
“We are given to understand that once a problem is reported, a technician will be mobilised with a response time of ‘one to six hours’, just to start investigating the problem. This is woefully inadequate and totally unacceptable.“
City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena said the overloading in the Roodepoort area was caused by the residents of the nearby informal settlement who were connecting illegally to the City Power infrastructure.
“We have conducted a number of illegal connection removals from the informal settlement as illegal connections are a violation of the city’s by-laws but every time they are removed they are back again.
“The area of Florida does not as yet have a Scada monitoring system, which impacts negatively in the time responses are given to power outages,” he said.
City Power loses approximately 5% of its revenue due to illegal connections. It also loses the infrastructure that explodes and burns as a result of overloading.
“When there is a power outage, the area is not easily accessible for technicians as the informal settlement residents often become violent to our technicians. In areas where City Power supplies electricity, it has electrified about 95% of the areas, however the informal settlements are mushrooming,” he said.
Illegal connections did not only happen in informal settlements but in upmarket suburbia as well.
The City’s member of the mayoral committee for environment and infrastructure services, Mpho Moerane, said there was concern over an increase in electricity cable theft incidents.
Since the start of the financial year, cables worth over R14 million were stolen, plunging many suburbs into darkness for many days, some for weeks. This excludes the cost to the actual repairs work to the infrastructure, and material.
In January, City Power had 144 incidents of cable theft to the value of R2.2 million. In December 2020, there were 206 incidents of cable theft. Most of these incidents happened during the recent load-shedding stage 2, which was implemented across the country.
To report illegal connections, residents are urged to anonymously call 0800 002 587.
City Power has been replacing the copper cables with aluminium bundle cables, which have no value to cable thieves.