Sub-station blast: Municipality denies strikers were behind blackout

2011-08-23 00:00

MANY of the thousands of residents who were without electricity on Sunday night and yesterday wondered if the reported sub-station explosion had something to do with the municipal workers’ strike, which entered its second week yesterday.

The affected areas were Chase Valley, Athlone, Sweetwaters, Montrose, parts of Wembley, Northdale, Newholmes and Copesville.

Traffic lights were out of order in some parts of the city.

Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma said the electricity department had assured him that all the affected areas would have their power restored by 8 pm yesterday.

Power was restored at about 5.45 pm.

“We are clearly dispelling the rumours that the power outages were acts of sabotage by the striking workers. There is no evidence that points towards that,” said Zuma.

He said the explosion at the sub-station in Peter Brown Drive was a technical problem, which the department was trying to fix with limited resources.

A man who works in Peter Brown Drive said he suspects the outages were an act of sabotage because he saw six men in plainclothes on Sunday morning who had opened a sub-station in Old Howick road, near the Carter High School turn-off. Soon after he arrived at work there was no electricity, he added.

“I was forced to sleep in my workplace because the electric gate was not working as there was no electricity,” he said.

Speaking about the impact of the strike, Zuma said, “This morning we commenced with the assessment exercise to determine the cost of damages to municipal property during the strike. We are engaging our insurance wing to assist us with the assessment.”

He said private contractors called in by the municipality to fix the outages are facing threats, which has caused delays.

Police have promised to provide escorts for the contractors on request, said Zuma.

He said the majority of municipal workers, including those in essential services, are on strike.

Employees who come to work are threatened, he said, which makes the situation worse.

“From Friday the interdict [requiring employees to report to work] is being served on individuals classified as essential services employees, and that process will continue under the circumstances,” Zuma said.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge said policing manpower has been increased to monitor Pietermaritzburg as the strikers begin to show increasingly unruly behaviour.

“We have also deployed police in strategic substations in the city to ensure that the community is not held under siege by the striking workers, who may tamper with the electricity.

“Anyone found to be tampering with electricity will be arrested,” said Mdunge.

At the time of going to print not all the affected areas had had their electricity restored.

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