Blackout brings heavy losses

2011-12-02 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG’S electricity supply woes have cost the city millions in lost investment and job opportunities.

Collin Stroberg, managing director of Willowton-based Natal Rubber Group, told The Witness yesterday that the company decided to locate a multi-million rand business in Johannesburg instead of Pietermaritzburg as it has lost faith in the city’s ability to provide a reliable supply of electricity and a good standard of general infrastructure.

“I’m glad I took that decision,” he said.

He was reacting to a power outage on Wednesday night that affected Willowton, Mountain Rise and parts of Woodlands. A number of businesses were affected by the incident, including The Witness.

Several businesses in Mkondeni were affected by a three-and-a-half-hour-long power outage yesterday morning.

Stroberg said the company lost almost two hours of output.

“We are running 24 hours a day, and we are working toward our shutdown date of December 15. Any output lost can’t be recovered. We can ill afford this kind of incident,” Stroberg said.

Malcolm Green, of Willowton-based Interpak Books, told The Witness that although they lost just more than an hour’s worth of production, the ripple effect of the outage was more profound.

“We are running 24 hours a day. We had a job to deliver to Pretoria. However, when the outage hit us the glue cooled down and that cost us an extra hour as we had to warm up the glue again once power was restored.”

Green said that they eventually delivered the consignment at midday yesterday, instead of at 7.30 am.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness told The Witness that the failing electricity supply is not a once-off occurrence.

“We’ve got to get this right. The continuous interruptions are the source of immense frustration and significant financial loss.

“Communication with the municipality is also a problem. Businesses often fail to reach anyone at the municipality, and they do not always get correct information regarding outages.”

She warned that Pietermaritzburg is fast becoming uncompetitive as a manufacturing hub and investment destination when compared with other South African cities. This would have a severe impact on the city’s already high unemployment rate.

“It’s the function of the local government to create an enabling environment for the private sector to operate within.”

Russell Cumming, the general manager of operations at The Witness, said the resultant power surge blew the connection to the main electricity supply.

He believes that another power surge then blew the connection to the generator.

“As a result we were without electricity for three-and-a-half hours while the rest of the area had power restored.

“When the mains power was restored we experienced numerous errors on the electronic side of the press. Our engineers and the German remote technicians worked on the problem and it was eventually resolved,” Cumming said.

Attempts to get clarity on the power outages yesterday from municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma were unsuccessful.

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