Pietermaritzburg residents without electricity for days as City staff allegedly embark on a go-slow

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Northdale resident Vijay Moodley cleaning up sewage in his shower.
Northdale resident Vijay Moodley cleaning up sewage in his shower.
Moeketsi Mamane

Everything that could possibly go wrong has gone wrong for many Pietermaritzburg residents who have been without power or water since Wednesday.

Many suburbs and townships in Pietermaritzburg were plunged into darkness on Wednesday following the devastating hailstorm.

Rooksana Ahmed, the DA’s councillor in Northdale’s Ward 31, told Weekend Witness that she has been inundated with calls from residents complaining about their food spoiling and how the outages have affected their businesses.

She said the power first went off on Saturday, and was restored on Monday, and went off again on Tuesday.

Ahmed said last week the municipal manager (MM) stopped Msunduzi workers from working overtime to reduce costs. She believes that this could be what is causing a delay in restoring electricity.

“We have had no feedback regarding what was going on with the internal problems between the municipality, the unions and the workers. I received a short message [on Thursday] from the MM saying they had an emergency meeting and that the section heads will be responding to us.”

“Some people had started doing their Christmas shopping, so everything has gone rotten.”
Ward 31 DA councillor, Rooksana Ahmed

Sources told Weekend Witness that Msunduzi employees were on a go-slow due to overtime being stopped, but municipality spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha did not respond to the Weekend Witness’ questions on whether this was the case.

Ahmed said on Thursday the power was restored in some areas, but only for about an hour. It went off again and affected more areas — from Northdale, Newholmes, Raisethorpe and Allandale.

“The workers found a huge fault in Newholmes on Cyprus Way and they were seen working there today [on Friday] fixing it,” she said.

“Some people had started doing their Christmas shopping, so everything has gone rotten.

“So now the residents and business sector in the area are frustrated because they are not getting the amount of communication they should be getting.

“Msunduzi Municipality is given a permit by Eskom and Nersa to supply electricity, if the municipality cannot supply and keep the electricity on, then I do believe that Nersa and Eskom need to step in now at Msunduzi Municipality,” said Ahmed.

A Northdale resident, who asked not to be named, told Weekend Witness on Friday that they have been without electricity since the early hours of Wednesday morning.

READ | Exploding sub-stations cause more disruptions after massive storm

“We do not know what is going on. It cannot take them three days to fix the electricity. Yes, there was a storm, but it cannot take them so long to fix it. All my food in the fridge has gone off and I had to throw it all away today [on Friday] and clean the fridge,” she said.

Mpumuza ward councillor Jabu Ngubo said several areas in her ward have been without power since Thursday. She said the areas that were still affected were Laduma and Athlone, but there were workers on site fixing the problem.

CITY BOSS WITHDRAWS CIRCULAR ON OVERTIMES

Municipal manager Madoda Khathide on Friday withdrew his circular on overtime cost-cutting measures, which had been met with fury from City employees when it was released last week.

Khathide had reduced the overtime to a maximum of 10 hours per month per employee, effective from November 8. He said any deviation would be approved by him, subject to the operational plans being submitted to him by his deputies on a weekly basis.

“Any deviation granted, based on the planned overtime schedule, and may not exceed 30 hours per month for all individual employees. Anything beyond 30 hours will be regarded as time off,” he said on the amended circular dated on Thursday.

ALSO READ | Police investigating 12 cases of fraud and corruption at Msunduzi

The measure was supposed to be in place until February 2021 but on Friday afternoon Khathide withdraw the circular via a text message on the council’s WhatsApp group.

Some councillors supported Khathide’s effort to curb the municipality excessive expenditure on overtime as there were also allegations of abuse. On the other hand he was also criticised for his “unilateral decision” and its potential negative impact on service delivery. The concern stemmed from a high vacancy rate in departments such as water and electricity, which allegedly made it difficult for workers to respond to outages timeously.

Msunduzi always budgets for overtime as the Basic Conditions of Employment Act stipulates that the maximum permissible overtime is 10 hours per week, but the restriction does not apply to emergency work such as accidents, electricity outages or burst water pipes.

Weekend Witness previously reported on Msunduzi’s perpetual excessive spend on overtime, which sat at more than R50 million annually in the previous financial year ending in June, being almost double that amount due to Covid-19, and the high vacancy rate. In the past City Hall has been hounded by unruly workers who threatened their managers when they refused to sign off on their overtime.

Msunduzi’s overtime expenditure bill of more than R10 million during the lockdown period recently raised eyebrows when the City’s leadership appeared before the parliamentary committee on co-operative governance.

SEWAGE FLOODS NORTHDALE HOME

On top of the undesirable power outages, a Northdale family has had to also endure the smell of sewage in their home after it overflowed from their toilet and onto their bathroom floor.

Romalini Moodley, said the main sewer pipe that runs through their yard started overflowing on Tuesday and despite having called Msunduzi multiple times and sent e-mails, no one has attended the problem.

“It’s very unhygienic and the smell is horrible.”

ALSO READ | When thunder roars, it’s time to go indoors

Moodley, who stays with her parents, grandmother and brother, said they have been using the neighbour’s bathroom since the problem started and have tried cordoning off the bathroom. “We trying to keep the bathroom closed but when the water seeps through we have to wipe it out, it’s disgusting. My bedroom is directly opposite the toilet, the smell is unbearable. Most people I spoke to from the municipality were very rude and no one seems to be coming to help us. The situation is getting worse,” said Moodley.

A Bisley resident, Zubair Desai, told Weekend Witness that they have had no water in Bisley, Cole Place, since Wednesday morning.

BUSINESSES HIT HARD BY OUTAGES

Zarha Shah, who owns a beauty salon on Mysore Road in Northdale, said despite having a generator, she still couldn’t operate fully.

“It’s the third day now without electricity. We just use the generator for lights. We can’t wash or colour people’s hair because the geyser doesn’t work with the generator. I’ve had to turn some of my customers away,” she said.

Shah said has not been able to get any information about what was causing the outages or when the power would be restored.

“The municipality must have private contractors on standby to assist them if they have issues with electricity to make sure that something like this does not happen again.”
Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business CEO, Melanie Veness

Melanie Veness, CEO of the Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business, said the situation is terrible and it is severely affecting businesses.

She said what is happening is “unacceptable as no business can go such a long time without electricity”.

“This is absolutely devastating, and it cannot be tolerated. It is costing businesses productivity, stock and money. Food is going off in the fridges and owners are losing stock and money. They also stand a chance of being seen as unreliable to their customers if they do not have stock or if it has gone off and that can lead to them losing their customers,” she said.

Veness blamed lack of management within Msunduzi Municipality as the cause of these regular outages, which take days before they can be fixed.

ALSO READ | Widespread blackout hits Pietermaritzburg after trip affects five primary stations

“The municipality must have private contractors on standby to assist them if they have issues with electricity to make sure that something like this does not happen again,” said Veness.

Thobeka Mafumbatha, Msunduzi’s spokesperson, said the City has had an influx of outage complaints due to the recent hailstorm.

She said the affected areas were Town Bush, Waldorf and DV Harris, Northdale, Balhambra, Mysore, Lahore, Raisethorpe, Sweetwaters, Highfields, parts of Blackridge, Claridge, Warwick Road, Oakhill Estate, Muswel Estate, parts of Chase Valley and surroundings, VCC, Old Howick Road and Ferncliffe.

By the time of going to print on Friday, Mafumbatha had not responded to the rest of the questions sent to her.

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Daily Poll
Illegal electricity connections - who's to blame?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Easy, those who do them and get paid for doing them.
13% - 1 votes
No, it's those who pay for them to be done and who use the free electricity.
50% - 4 votes
Government for not enabling an environment where people can afford to pay for power
25% - 2 votes
It's not clear cut. There are too many elements at play to apportion blame this easily.
13% - 1 votes
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