Msunduzi electricity infrastructure is being crippled by vandalism, theft and sabotage.
This often leaves frustrated ratepayers without power for long periods while the municipality scrambles to fix the damage in the perpetrators’ wake.
According to sources at City Hall, the municipality is losing infrastructure worth millions of rands to criminals but there are now also suspicions of sabotage.
“The problem of ageing infrastructure is there but most of the outages are due to vandalism and theft of equipment ... Of late we hear that some people are deliberately messing with the infrastructure,” said one of the sources.
They said some acts of sabotage allegedly involved employees of the City’s electricity team, who use them to generate more hours in overtime.
“It is common knowledge that infrastructure in general does experience vandalism and theft related challenges and electricity infrastructure is not immune to this occurrence in all municipalities,” said Msunduzi spokesperson Ntobeko Ngcobo.
The culprits have targeted not only street lighting but also substation equipment.
Ngcobo was unable to confirm how much the damage has cost the City as the annual financial statements were still being audited. She said the municipality is probing these acts of misconduct and some matters had been reported to the police for further investigation.
Meanwhile, the municipality is trying to find a solution to curb these challenges.
“... We are investigating these issues and some of the recommendations will be, as an example, to use aerial cables as opposed to underground cables to make the infrastructure not easily accessible. However, this does not 100% remove the risk of vandalism and theft,” said Ngcobo.
On the ploy by municipal employees to sabotage the infrastructure, Ngcobo was “unable to confirm nor deny such allegations until there is tangible proof to that effect”.
“However, our records do indicate that we have had outages sporadically and it does not confine itself to [a] certain period.”
Residents in Copesville and Mountain Rise are becoming increasingly frustrated with the regular electricity outages — which sometimes leave them in the dark for days.
Copesville’s Jabu Ngcobo said outages are becoming a weekly phenomenon and sometimes the power goes out again just a few hours after the City’s electricity team have fixed the problem.
“There are parts of Thokoza Road that are sometimes without power for three days. If you have meat and dairy foods in the fridge it rots and you have to spend more money buying fresh food only to be left without electricity a few days later,” she said.
Sakhile Zulu decided to invest in a gas stove and cylinder after his family had to eat cereal and sandwiches for dinner on numerous occasions.
“As a parent you have to make sure that your children are looked after and I can’t say I’m doing my job well if my kids have to eat breakfast when they should be getting a proper cooked meal for dinner,” said the father of two.
Mountain Rise’s Scebi Mthembu said communities should assist the municipality by reporting acts of vandalism and theft.
“There is nothing more frustrating than coming home to a dark house, so the municipality must do something to safeguard its infrastructure but as communities we must also do our part because we can’t continue like this,” he said.
He said the call centre was a challenge though, as the phone rang unanswered when people called.
Commenting on the call centre, Ngcobo said: “Under electricity we have a fault and control office, which requires immediate attention in terms of telephone lines, which will improve communication to customers. This is currently going through management structures for approval.”
DA councillor Ross Strachan, who has previously raised the issue of electricity outages at council and committee meetings, said immediate police and political intervention was needed regarding the “overtime” sabotage and criminal vandalism of infrastructure.
He said the City also needed to prioritise upgrades of its infrastructure as well as “engage with the councillors of those particular sensitive areas and roll out awareness campaigns in the community explaining the plans of action with timelines and interim plans to resolve the ongoing crisis, immediately.”