Guards to patrol City’s substations

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The fire-damaged Retief Primary substation in Pietermaritzburg.
The fire-damaged Retief Primary substation in Pietermaritzburg.

Security will be deployed to guard all Msunduzi’s substations and critical cables as part of the plans to secure the electricity infrastructure from further vandalism.

This was announced by Mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla during his first virtual briefing on Thursday evening where he was responding to residents’ queries to his office.

He said the City will also be installing cameras in some of the substations and guards will do round-the-clock patrols where the critical cables are buried.

The Witness has been reporting extensively on the damage to Msunduzi’s electricity infrastructure where equipment worth millions of rands has been stolen, leaving areas in the dark.

“We are not giving over the service to Eskom, but we are working with Eskom to make sure that our infrastructure is brought to an accepted standard.”
Msunduzi Mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla.

This compounded the City’s infrastructure challenges as the municipality has not been allocating sufficient funds towards maintenance.

“We believe this is a form of organised crime because the way that those cable thieves operate is in very professional manner. For a lay person myself, who is not an electrician, I will never know where a huge copper cable runs underneath the ground but those people are able to get underground and go directly to our cables,” said Thebolla.

The mayor also spoke about illegal connections, which he said do not just cost the City in electricity losses but the municipality also spends more than R700 000 annually to disconnect them.

“You get there, you disconnect; two hours later when you go back you find that those people have reconnected themselves and that puts more pressure on our grid.” Some of the City’s transformers have reportedly exploded due to overloading as a result of illegal connections.

“We want to make sure that come winter time, our people will not be faced with the same challenges they had to deal with this summer.”
Msunduzi Mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla.

Thebolla conceded that people have a right to electricity, saying that is the motivation behind Msunduzi’s application to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy for funding to electrify informal settlements. However, he said those in a floodplain, like Jika Joe, will not qualify for this programme.

Thebolla also cleared up the rumour that Msunduzi could be handing over its electricity infrastructure to Eskom, saying the City has no such plans. The rumour started circulating after December’s Retief Street substation fire where a team from Eskom came out to assist Msunduzi re-energise areas that were without power for about a week.

“We are not giving over the service to Eskom, but we are working with Eskom to make sure that our infrastructure is brought to an accepted standard,” said Thebolla.

He said the City needs about R171 million for the upgrade of the Retief, Masons Mill and Eastwood substations, and the executive committee reallocated R80 million of the municipality’s budget towards the project early this month.

He said the municipality’s leadership has also been engaging with industry with the aim of entering into a public-private partnership on this initiative.

“We want to make sure that come winter time, our people will not be faced with the same challenges they had to deal with this summer.”


Thebolla said while the City is making an effort to fill potholes, the reality is that the road infrastructure is too old.

He said the City’s road network includes approximately 1 600 km of paved roads, 340 gravel roads and 335 unimproved footpaths.

He said the work to repair potholes is currently in progress in different parts of Msunduzi “but that’s not enough”.

“About 80% of our blacktop roads need to be resurfaced. That is why during this financial year we prioritised issues of maintenance …

“Dealing with potholes is not a solution; a solution will be a complete surfacing of all of our road infrastructure but currently we are busy dealing with potholes as a temporary measure.”

He said the municipality will need about R500 million to resurface the entire road network.

Thebolla said it was incorrect that he had said the City would repair all the potholes within one month. “The commitment that I made is that within the 12 months of this financial year we would have dealt with most of the potholes because our budget, unfortunately, doesn’t allow us to start do a complete resurfacing of our road network.”

He said the City has been able to resurface Greytown as well as parts of Ohrtmann and Chase Valley roads, which were riddled with potholes.

In the next session of Thebolla’s virtual engagement, he said he will address issues such as sanitation, billing and the enforcement of by-laws.

16-hr Outage Reminder 

A more than 16-hour power outage is planned for areas supplied by the Retief Street substation tomorrow.

Lights will be out from 7.30 am until midnight as engineers on site will be cutting over to the busbar and bypassing the indoor switchgear as they need to replace the indoor board, which was affected by the fire on December 30.

The busbar has been constructed as a temporary measure to help keep the lights on in the hundreds of homes and businesses in the coming weeks as the repairs on the substation are expected to be completed on January 28.

The areas that will be affected by the planned outage are; Townbush, Investicore Centre, Oak Park, Montrose, City East, VCC, Wembley, Liberty Mall, Chase Valley, Grey’s Hospital and parts of the CBD.

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