No end to illegal power

2015-01-19 00:00

INFORMAL settlement dwellers have vowed to continue electrifying their households illegally if government fails to supply them with power, despite a ­recent string of electrocution deaths in Pietermaritzburg.

Three people, including a five-year-old, were electrocuted and died at Jika Joe and Swapo informal settlements this month last week.

“We are stealing electricity because our government is failing us. We were promised electricity a long time ago but nothing has been delivered Life is very hard without it,” said a man who helps residents electrifying their homes at Jika Joe.

The Witness was in the area when two men were busy at work — connecting electricity illegally.

“We are very careful when connecting it because we know it is dangerous as we connect from live wires. One might not come back home if anything goes wrong. It is a grave or a hospital.

“I connect for free. Why should I charge them because we are indeed ­stealing it? And I can’t charge residents because we are all poor,” said one.

The men were connecting in the proximityclose to where Nontobeko Mjoli was struck down by exposed live wires recently. They slammed those who do not cover wires as they put other people’s lives at risk.

“When wires are covered they can’t electrocute you. Even when we connect, we ensure that they are covered and also we put on gloves and rubbered shoes,” the connector added.

But not all connect free, as some charge a minimum of R100 plus a monthly payment. Zothile Mchunu, originally from eMpangeni on the North Coast, said she cut off power wires leading into her shack because electricity bills are “expensive”.

“They [people who connect] initially charged R100, which they said it was a ‘joining fee’. They then charged me R200 monthly,” said Mchunu, pointing out wires leading from one shack to another.

“I pay R100 for rent and I could not afford to pay R200 every month. I decided to cut it. I just use candles and a stove. They came here to collect money and I told them I cut it and therefore I won’t pay. They were very rude.”

Not far from Mchunu’s home, two half-naked boys sat on the verandah while two children leaned against a shack with exposed wires over them.

“I’m on my off-school holiday visit here and I’m scared. It’s dangerous and I make sure that I don’t touch any wires or sit next to them,” one boy said.

Another resident, who asked not to be named, said there are people in the community connection for them, he evermented that electricity workers in Msunduzi Municipality maybe involved as he had seen them with cables in the area. But this was not confirmed.

“We often see them [municipal workers] with cable wires here and they probably connect as well. No one can connect for me. They could be charging them as well,” said the connector.

He said municipal workers often come into the area to disconnect illegal connections, but they reconnect them.

Msunduzi electricity department head Sabatha Nomnganga said the city loses over R140 million a year due to illegal connections and a project to electrify informal settlements in the city is under way and will be completed this year.

“It should be completed before the end of financial year [June 30],” he said.

Nomnganga said if allegations levelled against his staff are true, a harsh sanction would be imposed. He urged residents to anonymously report such acts.

“Those people should be in jail not even just being fired. Residents must come forward because we want to root out such elements of conduct.

“We will deal with them harshly. We can’t pay people who connect illegally while people continue losing their lives. We will make them responsible for the deaths. The municipality is losing money and people are losing lives.” We cannot tolerate this.”

He said they have a task team were responsible for disconnecting illegal wires “every day and night”.

“We are busy with various projects to supply them with electricity. We are doing all we can and people need to be patient.”

A local electrician said: “There won’t be any problems on the condition that the key pad and electrical ready board are installed in the correct manner. They should not be installed where they would be exposed to water and they should have a proper stand to sit on.”


A man walks past one of many illegal electricity connections in Copesville, carved into the tarmac surface of a road.

HOTO: jonathan burton

A man walks past one of many illegal electricity connections in Copesville.

PHOTO: jonathan burton

KZN National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Natasha Ramkisson said an offender may be charged with theft of electricity and contravention of a municipal by law.

“If there is damage to the ­property or the meter/power box the offender might be charged with malicious damage to property,” she added.

She said there is a matter in the Pietermaritzburg region that was referred to the NPA relating to theft of electricity.

“Difficulties with this sort of ­problem is quantifying the amount of electricity stolen and linking the illegal connection to a person.

“If convicted, the sentence may vary depending on the circumstances of the matter.” Each matter is judged on its own merits and the circumstances may vary. The presiding officer is guided by these individual circumstances.

Eskom teams have conducted more than two million audits of electricity meters and installations and removed over 80 000 illegal connections across the country, and imposed R43 million in tamper fines between 2010 and 2013.

Tamper fines of up to R5 000 were imposed for reconnection.

In South AfricaOver R2 billion is lost annually by Eskom due to electricity theft. The losses sufferedby the country as a whole when including municipalities are at least double the Eskom figure, according to spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe.

“Eskom is plagued by conductor and copper theft.

“This includes the theft of overhead lines, underground cables, airdac and bundle conductors, earthing equipment, transformers, pylon support lattices and so forth.”

Phasiwe said the courts are taking this crime seriously and significant sentences are being handed out to perpetrators.

• More than 8 000 tip-offs have been received via Crime Line (SMS: 32211) and Eskom’s toll-free reporting line (0800 11 27 22) since 2013.

•In the 2013/14 financial year, 18 suspects appeared before various courts in South Africa on charges related to electricity theft. Since the launch of Operation Khanyisa more than 60 court cases have been heard and over 112 arrests made for crimes relating to electricity the

• A collective sentence of 123 years was handed out in the North West and Free State provinces to eight convicted members of a crime syndicate last year.

In 2013, Over R243 million in revenue was recovered by Khanyisa, a national partnership campaign established in 2010 to fight electricity theft. and related energy losses in South Africa.

This includes over R200 million recovered from the large power user sector, and more than R43 million in tamper fines issued between 2010 and 2013.

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