Residents in parts of Pietermaritzburg were left in the dark for hours after cable thieves targeted the Eskom Msunduzi switching station.
The loss of critical control cables led to a major trip at the Masons, Prince Alfred, Retief, Pine, Archbell and Crossways sub-stations — plunging a number of areas in the city into darkness from around 6 pm on Wednesday night.
Athlone, Clarendon, the central business district, Bisley, Pelham, Prestbury, Napierville, Montrose and Townbush were among the suburbs affected by the theft, which was discovered in the early hours of Thursday morning.
In a separate incident on Wednesday, infrastructure at the CB Downs Road sub-station was vandalised, affecting the power supply to Mkondeni.
The latest blackouts coincided with news that Eskom would be implementing stage two load-shedding until Saturday after it lost power at some of its major power stations. When The Witness checked with Msunduzi Municipality’s electricity department at 7.30 am on Thursday, staff were dealing with several faults, including one at a mini sub-station in Langalibalele Street.
There was also a cable problem at the Tatham sub-station, which affected parts of Church Street and Chief Albert Luthuli Street; and tripping at the Roberts Road sub-station, affecting people living in Roberts Road, Cordwalles, Taunton, Kitchener, Centenary and surrounding roads. At 9 am, another trip was reported at the Oribi sub-station — causing a power outage in Oribi, the airport, Pelham, Epworth, Scottsville and surrounding areas.
DA ward councillor Ross Strachan said that when power at the Eskom Msunduzi switching station was restored, the city’s ageing infrastructure failed to cope with the surge in power, leaving residents in the dark. “Some of the old sub-stations caught fire, like the one in Clarendon opposite Beacon Hill, which then caused quite a few trips in the area,” Strachan said.
“This normally happens when electricity has been out for a long time and you re-energise. Our old infrastructure fails or collapses.
“That’s going to happen time and time again if we don’t get money in to sort out our old infrastructure and maintain it.”
The latest theft of electrical cables follows a break-in at the sub-station, which serves the Woodburn Shopping Centre and the Woodburn Stadium, on Monday.
Thieves tried to make off with an indoor circuit breaker, estimated to be worth around R700 000, but abandoned the heavy equipment in the road when they were disturbed.
In January, The Witness reported that Msunduzi Municipality was losing the battle against thieves determined to dig up cables and steal infrastructure.
In the past year, vandalism and theft cost the City millions of rands, but no one has been prosecuted for any of the crimes.
Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Ntobe Ngcobo confirmed that the power outage had been caused by theft and vandalism at the Eskom Msunduzi switching station.
“The power was restored via line one and Eskom continued with the repairs to line two,” she added.
“There was also a fault which affected a number of areas ... This fault was not due to the Eskom outage, [but] it might have been caused by the restoration of Eskom supply. However, the fault has since been attended to and power restored. We apologise to our consumers for the inconvenience.”
Customers can report electricity faults at 033 348 2607.