Eskom takes over Retief Street electricity substation site

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Eskom contractors work on the Retief Street substation on Tuesday.
Eskom contractors work on the Retief Street substation on Tuesday.

Some of the residents and businesses supplied by the Retief Street electricity substation might have to wait until Thursday before their power is restored, even if everything goes according to plan.

The site has now been taken over by Eskom and it has brought in two contractors — Rock Powerline Electrical and Prime Electrical — who started work on Tuesday.

Rock Powerline’s Jacques Dormehl said the switch gears were burned out so they needed to build an overhead line then reroute all the cables.

“We’ve got a good team here and we’ve done this before. We also worked on the substation by Edendale.”
Rock Powerline’s Jacques Dormehl

“We’re going to build a live overhead busbar. We are going to connect all the live cables from substations onto that. Hopefully by Thursday we’ll be finished and everyone can come back on and then we will start working on the damage inside the substation.”

He said they had 34 people on site, most of whom were called back from leave to help repair the damage caused by last week’s fire.

“We’ve got a good team here and we’ve done this before. We also worked on the substation by Edendale,” said Dormehl, referring to the Masons Mill one that caught fire in July.

Deputy Mayor Manilal Inderjit, who is also the head of the infrastructure services portfolio committee, said Eskom’s team had been on site since last week to help the municipality. He said the power utility also provided equipment and helped turn on some areas since the blaze.

“The other areas that were energised went out again because we had four cable faults but those are being attended as separate faults so those areas will be back up again as soon as our electricians are done with those repairs,” he said.

“We need a complete overhaul and to also develop new substations.”
Deputy Msunduzi Mayor Manilal Inderjit

On the delays to the substation repairs, he said they had to wait for people who were called back from leave and the inclement weather also frustrated the teams on the ground as trenches regularly filled up with rain water.

“We understand that it’s been a huge inconvenience to residents and I can’t even ask for patience because it’s been very frustrating not to have electricity for so many days.

“We’ve also got people who are working from home that are adversely affected and healthcare workers, who are burning the candle at both ends and sacrificing their lives fighting the [Covid-19] pandemic and they’re coming home to a cold shower,” said Inderjit.

He said the City was also suffering financial losses because it could not charge people for the electricity it never provided.

He blamed the lack of forward planning in terms of preventative maintenance on the municipality’s electricity infrastructure for the blaze.

“We need a complete overhaul and to also develop new substations,” he said.

ALSO READ: Council approves R80 million for emergency power repairs in Pietermaritzburg

He said the Eastwood substation, which could have taken some of the electricity load, which was developed to the tune of R70 million, was vandalised before commission in 2019 but the City did not have money to replace the stolen equipment so it remained off.

“The current leadership is taking bold decisions to make sure that we find a lasting solution to the electricity problem but we need help from the national and provincial government because finances are still a problem,” he said.


Frustrated Ward 25 residents who went to the Retief Street primary substation on Tuesday demanding to know when their power would be restored received no answers. The small group came from areas such Chase Valley and Athlone.

“It’s the seventh today and we still don’t know what is really going on because it’s now obvious that we’ve been lied to by the municipality. They keep making promises that we will come on at a certain time but when that time comes they just change the deadline,” said Rajiv Vallabh, who accused the City of treating residents like rubbish.

“Why has it taken so long? I don’t know … It all boils down to one thing, if you don’t maintain your infrastructure it will one day fail.”
Steven Pointer, city resident

Vallabh organised the motorcade protest in which people could drive to the substation and leave immediately to avoid a crowd gathering due to the Covid-19 threat. He said the City was negligent and failed to maintain its electricity infrastructure so it should come as no surprise when there were fires at substations. He said Msunduzi had also grown over the years, in terms of population and business, but the infrastructure had not been upgraded even though the developments injected millions of rands into the municipal coffers as they paid exorbitant amounts in rates and services.

The residents said they had to throw out frozen food and those working from home had to invest in inverters and batteries, to avoid missing deadlines. An accountant, Rob Fawcett, said he spent R7 000 on them but the blackout had cost him way more as he had to buy food every day since he did not have a gas fridge.

ALSO READ: Another Pietermaritzburg substation goes up in flames

Steven Pointer said they also had to rent generators they never budgeted for. “Why has it taken so long? I don’t know … It all boils down to one thing, if you don’t maintain your infrastructure it will one day fail.”

Save Group director Mohamed Desai said the Save Hyper Centre, on Victoria Street, was off until Monday evening so they had to hire generators and freezer containers from Pinetown to keep the perishable foodstuff fresh.

Desai said the business sector was frustrated and wanted a sustainable solution to the problem.

“But I think it needs to be a public private partnership so that we can hold people accountable.”

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