It was lights out for Diwali in parts of Pietermaritzburg, as unattended water and power outages ruined the weekend for thousands of residents across the city.
The extended duration of the chaos was the result of a municipal decision to stop overtime payments, which meant calls for help met with no success for most of the weekend.
By 6 pm on Sunday water slowly came back in Prestbury and Clarendon. However, the problem still continued in the northern suburbs, said councillors.
Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the power had been restored in most places by then.
However, the councillors said this was incorrect, and residents were still asking them when the power would come back on.
Councillor Rooksana Ahmed of Northdale’s ward 31 said the municipal manager, Madoda Khathide, took a decision to stop overtime without informing council or the executive committee.
“There was no consideration that it’s Diwali, or a weekend,” she said.
Getting the electricity and water supply restored had been almost impossible and caused huge arguments with management at the municipality.
There are still thousands of people without water and electricity, Ahmed said, adding that sewer overflows were not attended to at all.
“In order to stop overtime, the municipal manager must make sure that work is done during the day and also that his water and electricity infrastructure is up to date,” she said.
At the other end of the city, councillor Ross Strachan of ward 26, which covers suburbs including Clarendon, Prestbury and Blackridge, said overtime issues that have been crippling the municipality need to be addressed, but not to the detriment of service delivery, especially of a basic commodity like water.
“Having no water for more than two days becomes a human rights issue,” he added.
Last week the municipal manager sent out a circular regarding proper consultation and planning, which has resulted in departments and officials not working over the weekend.
“The leadership and senior management of this municipality must take responsibility for the lack of proper consultation, planning and the reckless conduct that has created a crisis situation throughout the city,” Strachan said.
He added that the DA had notified the Department of Water Affairs of this contravention and planned to place pressure on the relevant departments to ensure that those responsible were held accountable.
“The people of Msunduzi deserve better, especially over such an important weekend in the religious calendar.”
Water flowed out of control from a burst pipe in Villiers Drive, Clarendon on Sunday morning, while Prestbury was without water for two days, he said.
On the overtime issue, Mafumbatha said: “Overtime reduction is part of reducing cost by the municipality.”
Another councillor, Lucky Naicker of ward 20 in the northern suburbs, said he was inundated with complaints from residents, including one about overflow of sewage in Larkspur Road that has been ongoing for the past six weeks.
“The problem gets fixed and then it starts again. It’s disgusting,” he said, questioning why municipal employees can’t find the root of the problem and address it there.
He added that the northern suburbs are the municipality’s biggest ratepaying area, yet residents continue to have numerous problems.
Naicker said it was also strange that power always seemed to be on at the Nkululekho informal settlement, but ratepaying residents had to go without power for days.
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Residents of Pelham also contacted The Witness for assistance. Some said they even went to the electricity department premises in Havelock Road, to find out from the municipal electricians when their power would be restored, to no avail.
Residents also said no one was picking up the telephones at the municipal call centre, increasing their irritation.
Attempts to reach the mayor and municipal manager were unsucessful.
In Hilton, which is supplied with electricity by Msunduzi, parts of Hilton Avenue were without power for five out of seven days last week.
Long outages were also reported at Hilton Gardens where a circuit breaker blew and in Hayfields and Copesville, where residents reported being without power for days, despite reporting the problems to the municipal call centre.
The loss of power resulted in some residents losing food as their freezers defrosted.
Mafumbatha did not comment directly on these outages but did confirm that the electricity department had been called out to numerous complaints.
At Masons Primary, circuit breakers to Edendale Afrox and Alex/French tripped affecting Afrox, part of Pelham and the Pentrich Road industrial area.
Residents living in Southlands, Oribi and Alexandra Road, Bombay Heights, parts of Dunveria, the Ezinketheni area and those living in Darjeeling and surrounding areas, were also without power for parts of Sunday.
Hilton councillor Craig Millar placed the blame for the ongoing power issues on the shoulders of the ANC-led municipality, saying that they had failed to invest enough money in infrastructure and manpower to repair faults across the city.
“There are a finite number of teams on call so it can take days for them to repair all of the faults,” he added.
“Msunduzi needs to stop spending money on non-service delivery items and give the residents proper service delivery.” He also backed residents’ criticism of the call centre, which many residents struggle to get hold of when problems arise.
“Msunduzi don’t have a functional call centre, so people can’t report a fault, and if they don’t report it, then it doesn’t get repaired.”