PMB anger at outages

2012-07-20 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG’S electricity woes reached breaking point yesterday with tempers flaring not just over the power problems, but at an indifferent bureaucracy at City Hall.

There was a massive blackout in Northdale and Woodlands from Wednesday night and power was only restored 22 hours later at 7 pm. Meanwhile irate residents were calling city hall, their councillors and even The Witness in a desperate bid to get power and not have to spend another night in the cold and dark.

Temperatures on Wednesday night plummeted to 3ºC in the city.

Several residents were convinced that the delay in restoring their power was due to the plug having been pulled on electricity repair staff working through the night, as had been reported by The Witness.

A council employee, who lives in Northdale and was affected by the outage, said he checked and no repair teams were working after 11 pm.

The employee, who cannot be named as he is not authorised to speak to the press, said the team only arrived in the morning and started digging to reach the cables. “Had they worked through the night they would have completed the digging and trenching and the repairs could have been done by the morning. We would have had lights by lunchtime or even before that,” he said.

Northdale ward councillor Rooksana Ahmed referred the Witness to municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma and to DA caucus whip Rodger Ashe on the issue of why the outage was not treated as an emergency.

Ashe said he understood that the municipality had to be careful with expenditure and could not waste money on unnecessary overtime costs.

However, he felt that for emergencies there should be a stand-by team because vast areas like Northdale and Woodlands should not be out of power for an entire day and night in the middle of winter, he said.

Zuma, who was sent e-mailed questions, did not respond by the time of going to press.

He was informed that the story would be going into the paper today.

Meanwhile, the managers of eight businesses in Langalibalele Street, who have been without electricity for the past week, causing them to lose a major portion of their monthly turnover, marched to the mayor’s office yesterday.

They marched to demand the immediate restoration of their electricity, as they were seriously considering the possibility of bringing a class action suit against the municipality to recoup their losses.

The businessmen had heard that their power had been inadvertently turned off because the municipality was dealing with a business in the vicinity which was allegedly stealing electricity and owed over R1 million in unpaid electricity bills.

However, this could not be confirmed because Zuma failed to respond to The Witness by the time of going to press.

Wes Brits, of Opportunity Finance, said his was an international company with offices in 28 countries. Not only did they suffer financial losses, but also to their reputation as their service was compromised. Brits said to add to their woes their generator burnt out earlier in the week and they had to go to the extra expense of getting another generator.

Nedbank, whose personal loans office was affected, has referred the matter to their senior legal advisor.

Employees of the affected businesses said they felt embarrassed because passers-by made comments like, “What happened? A big business like you can’t pay your light account?”

Ijaz Ahmed was particularly upset at the shoddy treatment he received at the hands of officials.

“I would go to one office and be referred to another. I would sit on the phone and be transferred from one office to another, each time being told different stories or asked for different documents.

“I phoned to make an appointment with the municipal manager, Mr Nkosi, and I was told the only time he would be free is after August 15th. It was extremely frustrating,” he said

Ahmed, who suggested the march to City Hall, was relieved that just over an hour after his return to his shop at about 3.30pm yesterday, the electricity to all the affected businesses was restored.

Ahmed said the municipality should review the way it did business and how it treated its customers.

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