WATCH: Msunduzi - "We communicated well"

2017-06-28 13:45
Municipal manager Sizwe Hadebe talks to the media during a press conference at Publicity House on Tuesday.

Municipal manager Sizwe Hadebe talks to the media during a press conference at Publicity House on Tuesday. (Ian Carbutt)

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In a bizarre move, the Msunduzi Municipality on Tuesday first tendered no apology for their lack of communication during the power outages, then apologised to residents for their failure to communicate, only to retract this apology moments later.

Msunduzi had called a press conference about the crisis where mayor Themba Njilo apologised for the power outages but not for the council’s poor communication.

The Witness had been inundated with calls from residents who claimed their calls to the municipality’s call centre had gone unanswered.

As a result of the municipality’s failure to respond to electricity outage queries, residents were unable to establish either the cause or the length of time it would take to restore power.

Responding to journalists’ questions about Msunduzi’s failure to communicate with residents, Msunduzi’s general manager for Sustainable Development and City Entities Ray Ngcobo dismissed the accusations. “There is capacity within our communication unit, we were issuing statements and responding to media queries. We were on radio stations as well as print media where we updated responses around the power outage challenges,” he said.

However, a few hours later the municipality e-mailed reporters another media statement where City bosses unreservedly apologised for the council’s poor communication.

“Once again we profusely apologise to all residents … we also pledge to go back to the drawing board in respect of some of key municipal functions such as communication and rapid response to improve our performance in future,” the e-mailed statement read.

When The Witness called Msunduzi’s spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha to draw her attention to the contradiction between the statement at the press briefing and the e-mailed one, she said the later statement was sent out by mistake.

Mafumbatha was adamant the e-mailed statement should be ignored as it was not an accurate reflection of the City leadership’s views. “It is a draft that was sent out by mistake,” she said.

She maintained that the municipality had communicated well during the crisis. “As we said in the press briefing, the residents were constantly briefed about power outages through the media,” Mafumbatha said.

The electricity outages, that began more than a week ago and which the municipality had blamed on striking council workers suspected of sabotaging electricity infrastructure, left residents in several parts of the city, including Hilton and Sweetwaters, in distress.

Hilton residents, who went for more than 80 hours without electricity during the latest power outages, responded with shock to Msunduzi officials’ statements.

“Communication from the municipality was unbelievably appalling, people had no idea what was going on,” Hilton resident Simon Haw said.

Residents, Haw said, were desperate for information — something that the City was unwilling to give.

“I do not know which media the officials are referring to because there was absolutely nothing from the municipality in the media.

“If you called the municipal call centre the only thing you got was a recorded message saying ‘we are aware of the problem’,” Haw said.

Despite electricity having been restored in many of the affected areas, residents in some areas, including Dennis Shepstone Drive and Selvan Grove, were still experiencing power outages.

Njilo said the current power outages were caused by the sabotaging of electricity infrastructure by striking council workers.

In some instances, Njilo said, the striking workers had ripped off power cables, burnt electricity powers and petrol-bombed substations.

“We have increased security escorts to contractors to secure their safety in those areas. Much as we have increased security, we are still experiencing vandalism and deliberate sabotage in some of these areas,” he said.

In what could be interpreted as a sign of a lack of confidence in the municipality’s ability to deal with the current crisis, Co-operative Governance MEC Nomusa Dube -Ncube has deployed a team of departmental officials to Msunduzi. However, Njilo denied Dube-Ncube’s intervention was a sign of her lack of confidence in the municipality’s leadership.


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