Row over power escalates

2016-09-21 09:36
The vast amount of illegal electricity connections coming from Echo Road substation that lead into Jika Joe.

The vast amount of illegal electricity connections coming from Echo Road substation that lead into Jika Joe. (File)

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The ongoing fight for electricity between residents of the Jika Joe informal settlement and formal residents living nearby has led to a tense standoff during which guns were drawn on Monday night.

Ward councillor Uraisha Haswell said the situation “has the potential to turn violent and for people to be injured”.

Formal residents living in the area known as “The Village”, next to the Brookside Mall, allegedly confronted a group of people illegally connecting electricity, which resulted in some residents being stoned while gunshots were allegedly fired in the air.

Residents said they were without electricity “almost every night” for the last few weeks because of illegal connections, and their frustration reached “boiling point” on Monday night.

Some 30 residents, allegedly armed, approached the informal residents who began throwing stones in retaliation.

“This issue has been ongoing for weeks now, and most often it is us formal residents who sit in darkness while our electricity is stolen by those living in Jika Joe. It is now becoming very tense,” said a resident of The Village who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation.

He said the most affected residents were those living in Ash and Elm roads, with some going without electricity all day. “We are middle-income earners and we work very hard to pay our bills, only for someone else to come and steal,” the resident said.

He said not knowing daily whether there would be electricity had caused “the highest notch of frustration”.

He called on municipal managers to come to the area to address the problem.

“They made the promises so they must come and deliver now,” he said.

Another resident said they locked themselves in their home after gunshots were fired in the darkness. It is unclear who fired the shots, but no injuries were reported.

Haswell said she was called to the area at around 7.15 pm and immediately called the Pietermaritzburg police station to monitor the scene.

“The issue is that the formal residents feel aggrieved because they pay for their services which are being interrupted daily, while the informal residents feel aggrieved because they are not getting basic services delivered to them,” she said.

“The levels of frustration faced by both communities are now at an all-time high and the only way to defuse this urgently is to provide higher voltage cables until such time as a long-term solution can be found,” Haswell said.

She called on the municipality to determine who was illegally connecting electricity. “We need to find out whether it is the residents who have received the prepaid meters, or residents who have none at all.”

Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha condemned the acts of violence and urged the Jika Joe and Village residents to tolerate each other. “We urge communities to refrain from connecting electricity illegally. The services belong to the community; let us work together in preserving them,” she said.

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