Eskom repair staff traumatised after twin attacks in Cape Town

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  • One staff member leapt off a ladder on an electricity pole to escape attackers during one incident.
  • A senior Eskom leader spoke of severe trauma suffered, requiring counselling.
  • The City of Cape Town also reported attacks on disabled clinic patients - and a clinic was set alight.

Three Eskom staff members have escaped potential harm in dramatic escapes from attackers. And the power utility has now called for the violence to stop, saying its personnel have been severely traumatised.

Eskom immediately withdrew withdrew technical repair services to large parts of Khayelitsha and neighbouring Mfuleni on Monday after two attacks.

On Tuesday, the City of Cape Town announced it had also suspended certain key services such as refuse collection "due to the extreme volatility".

Mayor Dan Plato said such actions were putting communities at risk and should not be tolerated.

"All of us need to stop illegal invasions and violent protests. The poor simply cannot endure this any longer."

Trauma counselling

On Tuesday, Alwie Lester, Eskom's general manager for distribution for the Western Cape, told News24: "With the two incidents that we experienced yesterday - the violent protest action that resulted in two Eskom vehicles being stoned, with one of them being vandalised and then burnt - we had to offer significant amount of trauma counselling to our staff.

"The one individual in the (Mercedes-Benz panel van) Vito managed to escape unhurt, but the trauma was quite hectic and we had to make sure there was counselling in place for him.

READ | News24 journalist attacked during unrest in Cape Town

"The two individuals who were confronted in the Mfuleni area - the one individual was seated in the bakkie when the windows were smashed, and they were attacked. He was quite traumatised by the incident, and again we offered trauma counselling to him as well.

"The other individual was busy on a pole, fixing a fault, and had to escape by jumping off a ladder and then running for safety.

"These are quite traumatic incidents and I think the impact on the staff is quite big. Although we have to offer a service to the community, I think our concern is the conditions under which we need to offer these services.

"So our appeal is to work with these communities to ensure the safety of our staff and our technicians … We really work for the people and it would be really difficult for us to be able to continue this service when our guys' lives are under threat. I hope this is going to change in future," Lester said.

Also in Mfuleni, two passengers and a driver sustained injuries after a Dial-A-Ride (DAR) vehicle was stoned in Khayelitsha on Monday. 

'Onslaught'

The City said: "Over the past couple of days, there has been an onslaught on City facilities and assets that are there to serve the most vulnerable among us. The City further condemns in the strongest possible terms the attack on a News24 journalist while covering the continued violence. This is unacceptable.

"The attack on the DAR vehicle followed on a number of acts of vandalism, including the torching of part of a clinic after Mfuleni residents protested over land. It is unclear at this stage whether the stoning of the DAR vehicle is also linked to protests over land in the area." 

Plato said: "It is disturbing and upsetting that a City service, which assists those with special needs who cannot make use of conventional transport, has been the subject of an attack. I am appalled at the actions of the perpetrators and call on the authorities to bring these callous criminals to book."

The City's Mayco member for Transport, Felicity Purchase, added: "Two passengers and a driver were injured in the Dial-A-Ride attack, all of whom sustained head injuries as they were hit with stones.

"One passenger was admitted to hospital after the attack and was discharged this morning [Tuesday]. At this stage, we cannot continue with the service in the area as it is too volatile to risk the lives of passengers and the staff rendering the service. It is a disgrace that we have now reached a point where protesters are focusing their anger and criminality on the vulnerable."

READ | Matric pupil suspended after 'headbutting' a teacher

The City said in its statement: "Various areas across the metro are currently under strain from attempts to invade land for services, nature conservation land, play parks or City housing projects.

"The City, together with law-enforcement agencies, is doing its best to thwart the attempts but it is mostly large-scale, well-planned, well-funded and orchestrated invasions. Actions to prevent the invasions or illegal occupations are also being met in some areas with extreme violence and destruction of property and the breaking down of community facilities. 

"Apart from what seems overwhelmingly to be orchestrated attempts, there are instances where illegal occupiers are claiming they have been evicted by their landlords as they are unable to pay rent. It must be noted this is illegal. Landlords may not evict tenants for non-payment during the lockdown period.

"Attempts to illegally occupy land, City projects or community facilities include several orchestrated attempts in Mfuleni and Khayelitsha. Other areas include Wallacedene, Delft [Blikkiesdorp], Dunoon, Firgrove [Macassar], Milnerton and Nyanga, among others. 

"This comes in the wake of the court case involving the South African Human Rights Commission [SAHRC], represented by the pro-land invasion Legal Resource Centre. It seeks to interdict the City from conducting any and all anti-land invasion operations. The SAHRC is further asking the court to void all existing court orders protecting specific sites from invasion. 

"The EFF has joined the SAHRC matter as a third party, but looking specifically at Mfuleni, where it is involved, the party argues the City may not perform operations on City land or to protect the nature conservation land as the case may be.

"Over the weekend, Khayelitsha land invaders burned down the Desmond Tutu Hall in protest after the City prevented a land invasion in Mfuleni. The mixed-use facility was built at a cost of R1 million and in response to the call by President Cyril Ramaphosa to expand capacity to combat Covid-19.

"Four people have been arrested in connection with this act and if found guilty, we hope they face the full might of the law. A strong message must be sent that wanton acts of vandalism are unacceptable and only rob the community of much-needed services," the City said.

Plato said: "These actions put communities at risk and we cannot tolerate it. All of us need to stop illegal invasions and violent protests. The poor simply cannot endure this any longer."

The City said it was monitoring the situation and "will do its best to resume services as soon as it is safe to do so".

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