Battle to restore power

2017-06-26 13:45
Private contractor and security brought in to restore power.

Private contractor and security brought in to restore power. (File)

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“We were working day and night, but the situation was beyond our control.”

That was the message from the Msunduzi mayor after power was eventually restored to Hilton and Sweetwaters on Sunday. But on Sunday night it seemed the elation of residents was short lived, as just after 6 pm, they were plunged into darkness again.

Power was restored to some areas a few hours later, but the overall situation was not clear by the time of going to print.

These areas had been without power since Wednesday last week after protesting council workers allegedly sabotaged the City’s power supply to many areas. It was unclear what caused last night’s mass outage, which also affected Winterskloof, parts of Northdale, Mkondeni, Thembalihle and other areas­.

Mayor Themba Njilo said the City had to hire a private contractor and private security, and get a court interdict against the protesting workers, to get the matter sorted out.

“I would like to apologise to community members for the delay in repairing the power. It is not like we were sitting and doing nothing during the period when there were blackouts. It was not easy going into the bush to repair damaged infrastructure.

“We had no choice but to bring in a private contractor. That too brought some challenges as people went on to sabotage areas which the contractor had repaired. We had to bring in a private security company, which cost us more money,” he said.

This was in the context of a very hostile environment where electricity workers who had embarked on an illegal strike had allegedly vowed to harm any workers sent out to repair the power infrastructure they had sabotaged.

Njilo said workers from the private contractor had also faced threats. “That is why we went and applied for a court interdict to ensure their safety.”

He said yesterday the municipality was still receiving calls from people who did not yet have power.

“But those are just homes where maybe there is a fault and we are going out to solve these.”

After power came back on again in mid-evening, a Sweetwaters resident said the lights seemed dimmer than normal, as if the current was reduced.

Njilo could not confirm whether the municipality had reached an agreement with the protesting workers.

But sources in the electricity department said the strike was not over yet.

Attempts to get comment from the SA Municipal Workers’ Union regional secretary Sbu Molefe were unsuccessful on Sunday.

DA caucus leader Sibongiseni Majola said although the power was back on, many people were wondering how long the lights would stay on.

“It is difficult to trust Msunduzi because we do not know the status of the electricity department. We do not know if the strike is over or not.

“The leadership should be coming out and telling people what the challenges are and where the deadlock is.

“But nobody cares to inform the residents about what is going on. Nobody even took the initiative to tell the people where the problems were, even when there were protests regarding outages. This is an essential service which it is very difficult to finish a day without.”

Majola said the municipality should expect more claims from residents who had their appliances damaged.

IFP caucus leader Thinasonke Ntombela said Msunduzi management lacked direction. “People should be informed all the time about power outages. The municipality is taking its own customers for granted,” Ntombela said.

Meanwhile, Hilton residents dropped off water in Sweetwaters, where taps ran dry last week following the power outages.

Kathryn Pitout, who organised the run, said about 1 500 litres of water had been dropped off in Sweetwaters even though water had come back yesterday.

“We had long planned this initiative when the water came back at Sweet­waters today [Sunday]. We thought, let us do something after the protest in Sweetwaters,” she said.

Mergan Chetty, DA KZN deputy leader, said, “Msunduzi has been besieged by service delivery strikes, power outages, water cuts, suspensions of senior members, employees striking and sabotaging services to residents, issues that demand urgent intervention.”

He said the DA has raised Msunduzi’s crises with Cogta MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube and national minister Des Van Rooyen, “yet they are reluctant to dissolve this council”. He said the DA demands that the municipality be put under administration, and if that fails, that the council be dissolved.

Hilton group meet in cold to plan protest

Hilton residents braved the cold evening on Sunday to vent their frustrations. Around 30 people gathered near Life Hilton private hospital to plan “the way forward”. They threatened to block the N3 should power outages continue, and also to boycott rates. Mike Findlay said they would apply for permission to have a formal protest, possibly on Friday, and that they would try to get residents of Sweetwaters to join them. “It is unacceptable that from Wednesday we have had no power. We have big businesses shutting down ... What is frustrating is that we do not get any feedback.” 

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