Hilton furious at outages

2011-04-20 00:00

HILTON residents and businesses are fed up with the power cuts that have plagued the suburb in recent weeks, especially last week, and they have demanded answers from the Msunduzi Municipality.

Hilton businesses told The Witness yesterday that they had lost revenue because of the continuous disruptions.

The owner of Bustles Café, Gaynor Johnson, said power cuts disrupt business frequently as there are no lights or means to prepare food during outages.

A five-hour outage on Friday lost Johnson the day’s lunchtime revenue, around R2 500.

Hers is not the only hospitality business affected.

A local bakery owner said they are often unable to prepare their products, which means they have nothing to sell. She estimated that the power cuts over recent months had cost her two days’ income, if not more.

Gateside Guesthouse owner Phillipa Baines said that with all the power failures they have had to work very hard not to lose customers, and have had to install a generator and solar heating.

“We are going to have to become even more self-reliant,” she said.

Local electricity experts confirm that the reason for the constant power outages is that no maintenance has been carried out on the Msunduzi electricity system.

Previously, “system reinforcement” teams worked according to a roster and carried out maintenance on all the sub-stations. This maintenance unit no longer exists.

According to sources within the municipality, a contract has been awarded for sub-station maintenance, but the municipality has not issued work to the contractors because there is no money.

A source said he believes that in the run-up to the election all the money earmarked for electricity is being used to provide street lighting. Teams have been going out changing street light fittings, and even street lights that are working are being replaced.

“This is an election ploy that is going to backfire,” said the source, “because it is all very well to have street lights, but when the system goes down there will be no electricity for anything,” he said.

Municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma said the power outages are due to ageing infrastructure.

He added: “Repairs and replacements are done where there is a very high urgency to do so. To replace the entire infrastructure will not be an overnight exercise and will require a huge budget.” He said replacements would have to be done in phases, with the levels of damage prioritised.

Hilton ward councillor Pam Passmoor said the main source of the frustration seems to be how soon the system breaks down after it has been fixed.

“Last Thursday the electricity went out at about 4 pm and only came on at 3 pm on Friday afternoon. Then it went off again over the weekend. All that happens at present is that there is crisis management.”

Hilton residents say that no one answers the helplines during a power failure. They have been waiting for the municipality to open a new call centre that has been in the pipeline for months.

Zuma said the existing call centre is unable to deal with a large volume of calls or to put callers on hold.

He added that the municipality is finalising the new call centre and residents can expect the mayor to make an announcement soon about its opening.

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