Call for permanent fix to power theft

2013-08-20 00:00

HOW long will the Msunduzi Municipality disconnect illegal connections, only to have them immediately reconnected by people living in informal settlements?

This was the question asked by both businesses and residents in areas where there are constant electricity outages because of electricity theft.

Yesterday, Msunduzi electricity contractors declared war on illegal connections in various parts of the city, but residents and businesses want a permanent solution because disconnecting the illegal wires only lasts while the contractors are still on site. Once they leave, the theft begins again.

A man, who asked to be identified only as R. Maharaj and runs a brick manufacturing business in Shortts Retreat in the Mkondeni industrial area, said he constantly has to call the electricity department to restore power to his business.

“In the past two years I have lost a total of 22 days because in those days no work was done as a result of illegal connections,” he said.

Maharaj said he had thought about relocating his business to Camperdown or Durban, “but I trained and skilled my 50 employees and I know they would not be able to move, so I just carry on operating here”.

He said the business had been without power since 9 am and by noon power had not been restored. “This is what we have to put up with daily.”

Maharaj said: “For business to be sustainable, we need a permanent solution because this is impacting negatively on our business.”

At Shortts Retreat, municipal contractors had to cut down poles that had been used to connect electricity to homes in the area previously. Now they are being used by electricity thieves to connect wires illegally to the nearby informal settlement. The municipality also had to remove wires that were used to bypass the fuses in the main sub-station.

“These wires are now bypassing the fuse, so when there is an overload this could burn factories down because the fuse had been bypassed,” said a contractor who did not want to be named.

The municipal contractors then moved to Copesville in Northdale, where residents had no power due to electricity theft. A resident who asked not to be named said they had been without power since Sunday.

“We are used to this now and we hope the municipality will eventually come up with a permanent solution, because we pay for services that we are not getting.”

In Copesville, power thieves were digging trenches to bury their illegal connections.

Melanie Veness, CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business, said electricity theft was a major concern for some of their members.

She said it was devastating for businesses to be without power for more than four weeks because they lost customers during that period.

“This is literally closing down businesses,” said Veness. She said she knew the municipality was addressing the problem, but it remained a huge challenge.

“Some people have lost their jobs because businesses can’t cope in the current situation.”

Attempts to get comment from Msunduzi Municipality were unsuccessful.

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