Bandits’ power siege

2014-07-24 00:00

A BRIGHT blue flash and then — once again — darkness as terrified residents hide in their homes, listening to power saboteurs trashing their street.

This is a normal night for residents in Balhambra Way, Northdale, who say they are being held hostage by people from the Nhlalakahle informal settlement.

When they complain about the ongoing problem, they are told to be patient.

But their patience is running out as the drama, and the power cuts, play out week after week.

They told The Witness that the situation has been going on for years, but was worsening all the time because the power cuts now came with the added threat of rampant crime. On Tuesday night, the scenario played out yet again.

Tensions were raised by a crowd of disgruntled residents of Nhlalakahle, who sawed down an electricity pole, cutting power to the entire Balhambra Way area, and burnt rubbish in the streets.

They were angered by electricity workers from Msunduzi Municipality, who arrived at around 8.30 pm to strip their illegal electricity connections.

They took to the streets, burning rubbish and blockading Balhambra Way with the electricity pole, plunging the area into darkness yet again.

A resident who lives near the informal settlement said they had no electricity from 9.30 pm until late yesterday.

The resident, who asked not to be named, said Nhlalakahle residents complained that the municipality had promised to electrify their homes.

“They were singing struggle songs and shouting ‘if we have no electricity then nobody will have it’.

“The municipality promised that there was R7 million from Provincial Treasury to electrify Nhlalakahle before the May elections,” she said. However, these promises had not been fulfilled.

Other residents complained bitterly, saying this happened on a weekly basis.

“There were two big explosions and our house flashed bright blue before the power went off,” said one woman.

She was worried about electronic appliances being damaged by the massive power surge.

“Residents living in Augusta Road, including the Ridgeview Primary School, still have no lights,” she said yesterday morning. Power was later restored.

“The municipal workers themselves connected these people illegally to make money,” she alleged.

As a result of outages workers didn’t go to work and children didn’t attend school yesterday. A close source was fuming yesterday, saying municipal management had taken a decision to stop disconnections at Nhlalakahle.

This was because the wrath of the residents was proving to be too costly for council, who had to repair the damage to infrastructure and sub-stations they sabotaged each time their connections were removed. Recently a sub-station worth R300 000 had to be replaced after it was burned down.

Municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said Tuesday’s disconnection at Nhlalakahle was routine. “Our team started reconnecting on Tuesday night and are working around the clock to restore power in Augusta Road,” said Mafumbatha.

She said plans to electrify the informal settlement were under way and urged residents to have patience because there are processes to be followed before their electricity is connected.

“Those who damage poles sabotaging our infrastructure will face the full might of the law,” said Mafumbatha.

She apologised to residents who were inconvenienced by power outages.

‘No rule of law’ when darkness descends

RESIDENTS of Balhambra Way and surrounds told The Witness they live in fear, too afraid to venture out of their locked doors at night.

One resident said, “During the blackout, people from the informal settlement broke into our property while we were inside.

“We had to lock the house and watch helplessly as they stole our stuff and this makes us feel like prisoners in our own homes,” she said.

She said the number of elderly people getting robbed has increased.

“We are so scared to do anything because they tell us they will burn down our homes,” she said.

Another fuming resident said the informal settlement had become a haven for prostitution, tavern-goers and a drug den, “so there is no rule of law” which spilled out into their neighbourhood.

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