The trenches in Phoenix, north of Durban have not been repaired. Picture: Charlene Somduth
The trenches in Phoenix, north of Durban have not been repaired. Picture: Charlene Somduth

KZN residents concerned after fibre installations lead to infrastructure damage

By Charlene Somduth Time of article published May 20, 2021

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Durban: The installation of internet fibre cables in suburbs in the eThekwini Municipality has caused damage to properties.

According to residents in Chatsworth, Phoenix and Reservoir Hills, the workers employed by individual private fibre companies have damaged water pipes and electricity cables. This has left them with intermittent services.

The residents say the workers also left trenches and holes and destroyed plants on the roadside.

Some of the affected residents and the DA in KwaZulu-Natal have approached the eThekwini Municipality as to who is liable for repairing the damages.

Zain Kassim, the chairperson of the Chatsworth Ratepayers Association, said: "The entrances of driveways were dug and left open. These pose a threat to both motorists and pedestrians. Property owners who have greenery outside their boundary walls have also said these have been destroyed."

Kassim said when the employees of the contracting companies dug trenches to install the cables for fibre, they often damaged water pipes and electricity cables.

"Some residents are left without water and electricity for up to 48 hours or more. They said their refrigerated and frozen foods spoiled and it had to be thrown out."

The affected areas include Crossmoor and Moorton.

He said the fibre installation began a few months ago without the municipality or the fibre company informing residents.

"We sought help from the municipality about our grievances, but we have not had feedback. We need answers from them because they approved these projects."

Kassim said he also approached the fibre installation company and still awaited a response.

Lenzo Pillay, a community activist in Phoenix, said some residents experienced the same problems.

"The installations started a few months ago, first in Woodview and then Foresthaven. It is now moving to areas like Stanmore, Sunford, Eastbury, Longbury, and Grove-End. Almost every day, we receive reports about water pipes that have burst and about electricity cables being cut."

He said the fibre installation company should have researched where the pipes and cables were located.

"They needed a proof of the area. This document shows the electricity cables marked in blue, water in red, and the white markings indicate which area should be dug. But from the damage, it is clear they are not following the proof."

He said the water infrastructure in Phoenix was more than 50 years old and it was vital for the municipality to assess the infrastructure first. "These pipes are old and can be easily damaged."

Pillay said there were trenches and holes along the roadside and that he reported the matter to the municipality.

"When a water pipe bursts, who is responsible for footing the bill for the water that is wasted? As ratepayers, we have paid more than enough for electricity and water. We cannot be expected to fit the bill for this too."

Ish Prahladh, from the Reservoir Hills Ratepayers Association, said the association formed a committee to deal with fibre contractors after the municipality failed to assist.

"The fibre installations started two months ago. Driveways are being damaged and the pavements turned into open trenches. The contractors did not close the trenches nor did they repair the driveways when they were done. They just moved on to the next street."

Prahladh said a water pipe burst recently due to the installation and it took more than 48 hours to be repaired.

"This was the last straw. The municipality was not prepared to help, so we took it upon ourselves and met with the fibre contractors. We told them we will not allow further work until they sorted out the trenches and the driveways. They agreed to do this and to notify residents before they started further work."

Councillor Nicole Graham, the DA eThekwini Caucus Leader, said the party raised the matter with MP Zakhele Mbhele, its shadow minister for Communications, Telecommunications and the Postal Service.

"Many Durban suburbs are in terrible condition with damaged infrastructure, repeated interruptions to water and electricity networks, and gaping holes and trenches across roads and pavements due to the fibre infrastructure."

Graham said while the party acknowledged the need for improved telecommunications networks, there seemed to be insufficient control to ensure communities are not left with damaged infrastructure and important services during and after the installations.

"Some service providers conduct themselves properly and clean up after themselves, but not all do so. Many residents have also had their private properties damaged or lost access to their driveways because of massive trenches created."

She said the issue was raised with the senior management of the municipality months ago.

"The municipality claims to be hamstrung by national legislation, which allows licensed telecommunications service providers the ability to install their cables and networks. Municipalities are responsible for granting way leave agreements over their property. However, they seem powerless to stop unscrupulous service providers."

Graham said municipalities could not be left with insufficient controls.

"The national government must come to the party. Furthermore, we have submitted a second set of questions to the eThekwini Council to ascertain the cost of damages caused by these installations that have been claimed from service providers and that have been actually paid in the last year."

She said the party also wanted to know about restorations to the natural environment.

"This refers to flower beds and grass, whether the city has obtained legal advice, how many providers have wayleave agreements, how many are operating without wayleave agreements, and who is responsible for overseeing the process."

Sanele Sibiya, the project manager for Telelanga, said they were one of the companies installing fibre in Reservoir Hills.

“We have a policy that states we will not get paid until the area is re-instated to it original form. We have to submit pictures to the municipality showing what the area looked like before, during and after the installation. The municipality will also conduct a site inspection before any payment is made. I have given my number to residents to call me if they have any problems."

Msawakhe Mayisela, the spokesperson for the municipality, said the project was not initiated by the City.

"Different companies have approached the city at different times seeking permission to install their fibre cables. The fibre is installed by private companies but before they start installation, they obtain authorisation or clearance from eThekwini Municipality. They submit all required approval forms to the relevant eThekwini departments and other respective service providers."

Mayisela said the private contractors were obligated to pay for all repairs to residents' property damage.

"Our roads and stormwater maintenance department has dedicated a clerk of works, who monitors these contractors and ensures compliance out on site. 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."

Mayisela urged residents who wanted to report or to find out more about the fibre installations to call Roads and Stormwater Maintenance on 031 322 7241.

The fibre companies in Phoenix and Chatsworth could not be reached for comment.

Holes have been dug up along sidewalks in Phoenix

Trenches in Reservoir Hills has also damaged a portion of the roadlen
A water pipe is left exposed in Reservoir Hills

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