Power cuts in big freeze

Call to save electricity at all times to prevent collapse.
Call to save electricity at all times to prevent collapse.

Parts of the city were left in the freezing cold from Wednesday when Msunduzi was hit by multiple hours-long outages, forcing some areas into rotational load-shedding on Thursday. 

Residents from areas such as Sobantu, Northdale, Prestbury, Mpumuza, Shayamoya and parts of the CBD inundated the call centre and ward councillors with complaints.

Reported incidents were traced to faulty cables and substations. The wet weather, which sent the temperature plummeting to just 16 degrees in the capital yesterday, delayed some of the repairs and areas were forced into load-shedding to protect the network.

Allegations of sabotage of the municipality’s infrastructure to exacerbate the outages swirled around the City Hall on Thursday.

In the afternoon, Msunduzi circulated an alert urging consumers to switch off non-essential appliances.

A power outage at the DV Harris Waterworks also left parts of the city with dry taps on Thursday.

The affected reservoirs included Symons, Belfort and Claredon.

Ward 26 councillor Ross Strachan said his ward was also having water outages “so you can just imagine how angry people are right now. The honest truth is that the lack of maintenance of our infrastructure is the reason we are in this mess.”

He said some of the areas that went out on Wednesday were still not back up by yesterday afternoon. Various reasons were given, such as work being halted due to the challenge of no access to a substation at Silver Oaks. Foxhill, Mpumelelo and part of the Bisley network had to remain off until repairs were completed due to high loads. The wet weather also hampered efforts to excavate a faulty cable.

In Northdale, councillors Rooksana Ahmed and Lucky Naicker said their wards had been hit by several outages over the past few weeks. Some, like Wednesday’s, lasted for more than 24 hours.

“This is a matter of great concern and as councillors we are not kept abreast of repair schedules, neither are we told reasons for outages so as to inform residents,” said Naicker.

Ahmed said Msunduzi had repeatedly failed its residents when it came to dealing with electricity outages. She echoed Strachan’s sentiments, saying half of the city would not have been plunged into darkness if the municipality ring-fenced funds for maintenance every year.

Downtown, including parts of the CBD and the Village, councillor Suraya Reddy suspected that the infrastructure was not coping with the demand. She said it did not help that the municipality had turned a blind eye to illegal connections.

“It’s cold so everybody is pulling power at the same time. The infrastructure and planning departments knew about the population growth but there seems to be no plan in place and yet we talk about being a city that wants to attract business investment,” she said.


A Sobantu resident, who asked not to be named, called The Witness newsroom to share her story about how she and her two teenage boys had to spend hours outside in the cold on Wednesday evening cooking their dinner on a wood fire. “When we woke up on Wednesday morning there was no electricity and I had to bath with cold water. It was freezing but I had no choice because I needed to get to work. When I got home in the evening we still had no power. I’m told it came back briefly then went out again when I was still at work,” she said.

She said most people in her area could not afford to buy gas cylinders so they were left with no choice but to make fires outside. She was most worried about her neighbours, who are pensioners.

Savinta Naicker said on Judith Crescent, Northdale, the ongoing power outages have been an issue for some time. She said she tried calling the call centre numerous times without success.

Ageing infrastructure blamed for power outages


Mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla acknowledged that the city’s ageing infrastructure was one of the leading causes of the power outages.

“It’s cold so the demand is high and the networks were overloaded, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough capacity. Our teams are on the ground as we speak trying to get power restored in all affected areas.

“I would like sincerely apologise to the people of Msunduzi for the inconvenience caused. I’m going to meet with the management of the electricity department tomorrow [today] to discuss how to prevent this from ever happening again.”

Thebolla was aware of the allegations of sabotage but said he could not comment on those until this morning’s meeting.

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Daily Poll
POWER CONCERNS | How worried are you about Msunduzi municipality's ability to fix the ailing electricity infrastructure in Pietermaritzburg?
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Very worried. I'm not sure they have the capacity or finances to do it.
76% - 16 votes
It's a problem everywhere, not only at Msunduzi. Government must step in.
24% - 5 votes
It's not a big deal. We'll get through it once they've sorted themselves out.
0% - 0 votes
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