Eskom launched a massive crackdown on illegal electricity connections in Thornville, which was fiercely resisted by residents who blockaded the road and stoned police and private vehicles.There has been a sharp increase in illegal connections in the area in recent years.Police fired rubber bullets to disperse crowds who had blockaded roads and were threatening Eskom officials. WhenThe Witness visited the area, which is next to the Fox Hill Farming Estate in Thornville and where more than 200 houses had been illegally connected to the Eskom power grid, it resembled a war zone, with burning tyres and young people pelting motorists on the nearby Richmond-bound R56 with stones.The Eskom officials had arrived in the early hours of yesterday but had to turn back after facing resistance from residents. A few hours later they returned, accompanied by a large police contingent, and started the disconnections, cutting all cables illegally connected on Eskom overhead poles.The crackdown, which is the first of its kind in Pietermaritzburg, happens as Eskom teeters on the brink of collapse due to, among other things, drying revenue streams. Eskom, which this week incurred the wrath of the public when the power utility imposed unprecedented stage 6 load shedding that wreaked havoc in communities, is owed R23 billion by municipalities, with illegal connections costing the power utility R7 billion a year.While the Thornville residents did not deny that they had illegally connected to the Eskom power grid, they blamed the “high-handed” tactics used by the power utility’s officials for the chaos that ensued.Resident Thulani Ndlovu said they were surprised when the entire area was without electricity in the morning. “We could not understand as normally power outages affect certain parts of the area at any given time. But this time around the whole area was plunged into complete darkness when I woke up at 4 am.“As we were starting to wonder what exactly was happening, we saw Eskom vehicles and the Eskom workers were busy cutting electricity cables,” he said.According to the residents, there had been ongoing meetings between Eskom and the community over the illegal connections.“The problem is that none of the houses in this area are connected to the Eskom power grid. When Eskom started to complain about the illegal connections we told them that we will stop if they legally connect us but as we were waiting for Eskom to start the process of connecting houses, they just started disconnecting everyone,” said another resident, Sbo Ngidi.Motorists driving towards Richmond had to turn back and use an alternative route as the R56 was completely blocked.By late yesterday afternoon, there was still a strong police presence in the area, with members of the Public Order Policing (POP) having arrived in large numbers to remove rocks and other items from the road.One resident said:“We will make this area a no-go zone, the community will continue fighting unless Eskom agrees to come back to the negotiating table”.Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese said police were currently monitoring the situation in Thornville.