Eskom plant parts stranded

2015-02-24 00:00

COMPONENTS vital for the construction of the Kusile Power Station in Mpumalanga, which is already five years behind schedule, have been standing at the roadside for over a week, victims of a bitter service delivery dispute.

Residents on the outskirts of Greytown, who have been fighting for land and services in the area for nearly four years, have dug deep trenches across the R74, making it impossible for the six trucks carrying the Kusile parts to pass.

With no traffic having moved through the area in weeks, the operations of local farmers and lodge owners have also been affected.

The dispute, which has at times turned violent, is now hamstringing pivotal electricity grid infrastructure as the country deals with a nationwide power crisis.

Kusile, one of Eskom’s flagship ­power generation projects, has been plagued by delays.

These delays are expected to be ­exacerbated by the marooning of key boiler components in Greytown.

When completed, Kusile and Medupi coal-fired plants will provide nearly 25% of the country’s electricity.

The blockaded and badly damaged R74 is a major freight route for abnormal loads because of the width of the road, relatively low traffic volumes and absence of low bridges.

A line of six special interlink trucks, carrying large steelworks which are set to form part of boiler infrastructure at the Kusile Power Project, now stands idle at the roadside.

The trucks, which each run at a rental cost of R25 000 each per day, have been stranded for a week while alternate routes are considered.

The service delivery demands at the centre of the conflict stretch back over several years, with the community regularly blockading the road and looting and burning several freight vehicles.

In April 2012, 135 people were arrested on charges of public violence after the community blockaded the R74 with trees, rocks, tyres and debris.

In September last year, the road was closed for nearly a week with burning barricades and violent protests.

Demands include water and electricity infrastructure for homes on a private farm.

Farm owners have refused to foot the bill to cater for the families, while the local municipality has refused to install infrastructure on land that is not state-owned.

Premier Senzo Mchunu had not been informed of the latest developments, ­despite the long and chequered history of the conflict and the current ramifications for Eskom.

His spokesperson Sibusiso Magwaza said that while Mchunu was concerned, he had no idea that a major freight route in the province had been closed.

“I can confirm that the premier has not yet been informed about this civil disobedience.

“The premier is very concerned about all actions that are accompanied by violence, especially when they [protestors] destroy existing infrastructure.

“Disturbance of any kind is not condoned by the premier and his office,” he said.

“It is very concerning that since this is an agricultural area, farmers are affected. This will threaten food security and much needed jobs.”

“This matter is going to be referred ­immediately to the Department of ­Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs so that they activate necessary structures in order to get to the bottom of this community grievance,” Magwaza added.

In 2012, an announcement was made by the Office of the Premier that a task team of MECs was established to “deal with the ongoing protests”.

KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union spokesperson Koos Marais said the situation had become dire.

“The community there is bleeding to death. The impact this unrest is having on the farming community in that area cannot be understated,” he said.

“Entire families have been deprived of their constitutional right to freedom of movement as they have been completely cut off. People cannot take their children to school because the roads are now ­impassable.

“The economic impact on farmers is ­severe. The tomato crop is now in high ­season and the harvest cannot be moved to markets because the R74, a main route through to the central KZN hub, has been destroyed. The crops are now simply wilting away,” Marais added.

“These people have been completely cut off from all services. The emergency services cannot get through and this issue has reached a tipping point. This is a major route for public road users and this kind of damage to infrastructure is unacceptable.

“What we cannot understand is why the police have not intervened. We have evidence that damage has been done in the presence of the police and there is still no action. ­Service delivery protests elsewhere are met with strong action, but in this case the police have done nothing. Our concern extends to the inaction of the premier,” he said.

Police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said that officers were monitoring the ­situation, but that policing the residents was difficult.

“This is an outlying area and the difficulty is that these people blockade the road in the early hours of the morning and then scatter, leaving no one to arrest,” he said.

Eskom had not responded to questions on the matter by the time of going to press.

• jeff.wicks@witness.co.za

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