Blow to city power

2011-11-03 00:00

THE ailing Msunduzi Municipality electricity department was dealt a major setback with the resignation of its head, Maxwell Mthembu.

Mthembu, who resigned on Monday, will be working for the eThekwini Metro Municipality from next month.

Mthembu, a professional electrical engineer who headed the council’s under-funded, short-staffed and troubled department, has been commended by fellow colleagues and the business community for tightly holding the reins amid continued problems with the city’s ageing electricity infrastructure. This resulted in regular power outages which have irked residents for years.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB) president Paris Dlamini expressed shock at the news of Mthembu’s departure.

“This comes as a surprise to me. It is shocking because we hold meetings between us and the municipality every two weeks around electricity matters … now that Maxwell is going I don’t know,” said Dlamini.

Dlamini said that it’s a pity that the city will lose a person of Mthembu’s calibre as the municipality is known for its lack of strategic planning.

He said that, with the incoming new municipal manager, Mxolisi Nkosi, and the recruitment drive to lure new senior managers, hopefully a head of electricity to replace Mthembu would be a priority.

“From the business point of view we want to keep businesses in our city for the sustainability of our people’s jobs, we need electricity function properly,” said Dlamini.

Mthembu said that he enjoyed his stint at the municipality which dates back to 2006.

“I respected customers who complained to me and endeavoured at all times to deal with them courteously.

“My wife once called a call centre for the municipality my phone would ring constantly. They are the bosses that is why I respected them,” he said. He would not elaborate on his reasons for leaving.

However, municipal insiders said that he was frustrated at struggling to get money to fix the ageing infrastructure and yet always being blamed when there were power outages. Sources said that it was Mthembu who discovered the large scale electricity theft by businesses in the city, which led to operation Pitbull. This in turn exposed collusion between electricity staff and electricity thieves. Later there was evidence that some of the people working on operation Pitbull were also cheating the system.

They said that Mthembu’s departure comes after he has been pushing the council to allocate R900 million to sort out the city’s ageing electricity infrastructure and to deal with the electricity theft rife in the informal settlements.

Msunduzi spokesperson, Brian Zuma said that it’s unfortunate that the municipality is losing a professional of the calibre of Mthembu in a field regarded as a scarce skill.

“However, we would like to allay fears to anyone concerned about his departure to say that we are going to forge ahead with our programme plan and processes to properly manage electricity distribution in the city.”

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