Enoch Mgijima residents want municipality dissolved as protest erupts in Komani over blackouts

Hundreds of angry Enoch Mgijima municipality residents shut down Komani township.
Hundreds of angry Enoch Mgijima municipality residents shut down Komani township.
Mkhuseli Sizani
  • Hundreds of Enoch Mgijima Municipality residents shut down the town centre in Komani (formerly Queenstown) on Thursday over ongoing power outages.
  • Residents want the "dysfunctional" municipality to be dissolved.
  • Mayor Madoda Papiyane said the municipality owed Eskom R890 million, blaming illegal connections and decaying infrastructure as the major causes of blackouts.

Hundreds of Enoch Mgijima Municipality residents shut down the town centre in Komani on Thursday.

They are demanding an end to their electricity woes and want the "dysfunctional" municipality to be dissolved.

According to Mayor Madoda Papiyane, the municipality owed Eskom R890 million, blaming illegal connections and decaying infrastructure as the major causes for the blackouts.

Residents began blocking the N6 between Aliwal North and East London at Hexagon Square as early as 06:00.

Public Order Police were called to disperse the residents who resisted until officers fired teargas and rubber bullets.

ANC members then accompanied Papiyane, Chris Hani District Mayor Wongama Gela, and other senior ANC office bearers in a motorcade.

The ANC members had apparently discouraged people from joining the protest and this angered residents.

The officials had to be escorted out of the area by the police after residents started throwing water at the officials' cars.

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The group then moved their protest to the front of the ANC's Chris Hani District office where more than 200 ANC supporters formed a human chain to protect the office.

Mncedisi Mbengo of the Komani Protesters Action said: "We want Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to intervene. Corrupt ANC leaders have destroyed this municipality. People's electrical appliances have been damaged.

"The municipality only [restored] the electricity for the ANC celebrations last Saturday. Some areas had no electricity for two months and businesses are suffering."

ANC supporters formed a human barrier in front of the ANC’s Chris Hani District office where a large group of Komani residents were protesting.

Raymond Isaac from Parkville said: "The ANC does what it likes with taxpayers' money. Instead of fixing the problem, they just call the police to shoot at us. But we are not shaken, we will continue with the protest."

Sinelizwi Jack, a mother of three from Mlungisi said: "All the food and meat that I bought for school lunches is rotten in my fridge because we had no electricity for three days. Everything has come to a standstill. Our children could not go to school and rubbish was not collected."

In Ezibeleni, households have been experiencing electricity problems since 2017 and as a result, many companies no longer do business in the area.

READ | South Africans falling victim to solar equipment scams amid load shedding, warns Sabric

The chairperson of the Independent Komani Residents Association, Xolani Ngxatu, told GroundUp Ezibeleni was the second largest suburb after Mlungisi in the municipality.

He said it was established in 1976 with one electricity substation.

It now has an industrial area and new mall.

Ngxatu added the municipality only installed two additional transformers to serve the entire community, saying the lack of maintenance and load shedding had exacerbated the problem.

"In 2017, one of the transformers in Zone Two was damaged. The municipality removed it and said it was sent to Johannesburg for repairs. Early in 2022, we protested for that transformer to be brought back. It was brought back in August but is still not working. It remains a white elephant."
Transformer in Ezibeleni township which residents say has been faulty since 2017.

He said poor households were hit the hardest by these problems.

"Paraffin and gas are too expensive and most families live on social grants.

"Municipal trucks get stuck in muddy streets and illegal dumpsites are mushrooming because the municipality is not consistent with refuse collections," Ngxatu added.

Mayor's response

Papiyane said he believed the protest was being funded by businesspeople with "ulterior motives".

"They support disgruntled ANC members who are not happy with processes. I was inaugurated on 8 December. On Saturday, I made sure that people had electricity and that had nothing to do with the arrival of [ANC] secretary-general Fikile Mbalula."

He added the municipality bought R30 million worth of electricity each month.

"We lose R16 million of that through illegal connections. We have discovered that many businesses and communities don't pay.

"Some municipal workers are also involved in stealing electricity by helping communities to do so. We currently owe Eskom R890 million and have a monthly wage bill of R24 million."

Protesters argue with police.

The mayor acknowledged Ezibeleni had had electricity problems "for a long time", saying a third transformer was purchased to "ease the load".

"Decaying infrastructure is another challenge for us. But we are fixing the problem. I can assure you that everything will change, and electricity will be restored.

"We have already started by getting rid of underground cables in some areas and are introducing overhead cables. The electricity line near the hospital is also being attended to," he said.

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