‘Msunduzi wasn’t prepared for damage’

2013-01-14 00:00

MSUNDUZI municipal manager ­Mxolisi Nkosi admitted that the council was unprepared for the scale of the damage from the storm on January 5.

He also admitted to the inadequacy of the call centre, which continues to be the bane of residents.

“In a number of areas we were caught by surprise and were found wanting … We will look into this in the debriefing session and rectify those areas where we went wrong.”

Nkosi added that the council’s response had been hampered by the fact that many of its suppliers were closed for the festive season, making it difficult for them to get parts.

As for the call centre, he said, it simply did not have the capacity to cope with the volume of calls.

“The other problem is staffing — the call centre operates 24 hours, but each shift has only four people working with a shift supervisor.

“I want people to be able to send an SMS with the details of their problem to the council and to get an SMS back with a reference number, so that they know their complaint has been logged,” Nkosi added.

His comments came as The Witness fielded calls and e-mails yesterday from ratepayers fed up with the service at the call centre.

Michelle Perry and her neighbour, Tim Cameron, who live in Crompton Road in Hilton, said that while the trees which affected the power lines had been cleared on Monday and Tuesday, they had remained without electricity for seven days.

Perry and Cameron eventually drove to the Havelock Road control room only to be told by staff that there was no record of their problem from the call centre.

“We couldn’t believe it. I’ve personally called them [the call centre] at least 20 times and my neighbour’s probably called them the same number of times,” Perry said.

“Messages are not getting through to the control room … Somewhere there is something hugely wrong.”

The loss of power has proved to be hugely expensive for both households. Cameron said: “I have been using my geyser to run my electric fencing, which is my main security, and the fridge and freezer to stop my food from going rotten. I’ve probably spent about R1 200 on fuel for the generator in the past week.”

Perry added: “I’ve had to throw out food from my freezer and fridge.”

As The Witness was speaking to Cameron and Perry, the council arrived to sort out the outage, which was apparently the result of a blown fuse in the municipal box.

Another disgruntled resident was Menanteau Schoeman, of Harriet Colenso Road in Bishopstowe.

“Engineers and electricians and contractors have come out here and done what they needed to do, but trees still need to be cleared from the lines before power will be restored.

“As an electrical contractor myself I can see the problem and I know what needs to be done to fix it, but I can’t do anything,” he said.

In Copesville, Julie Chetty’s lights have been going on and off all week, but the final straw came on Saturday night when she and her family arrived home to a house in darkness, while all the properties nearby had electricity.

Nkosi, who has been municipal manager for nearly a year, said that while he sympathised with residents, many of the problems the council was dealing with were the result of a chronic lack of investment in the city’s electrical grid.

“While the number of consumers has increased, the infrastructure has not been improved for about a decade. It’s not something that we can turn around over night,” he said.

As for the clean-up of the city, Nkosi said it was progressing well.

“Most of the emergencies have been dealt with, although Hilton, Sweetwaters, Taylor’s Halt and Vulindlela still have several issues that need to be resolved.”

Nkosi now hopes to get permission from the council, at its mid-term budget meeting on January 26 to start working on a programme to permanently remove trees and vines affecting the electricity supply in the city. If approved, the programme will begin rolling out in early February.

For now, disgruntled ratepayers can send Nkosi an SMS with their complaints to 082 806 6788, which he undertook to forward to the right people straightaway.

• arts@witness.co.za

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