FURIOUS Ward 13 community members in Newvale burnt tyres in protest against power outages while in nearby Tarkastad, residents took to the streets to fix an electrical cable themselves.
Both areas fall under the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality which was formed last year as an amalgamation of the former Lukhanji, Tsolwana and Nkwanca municipalities.
On Tuesday, smoke wafted in the air above Newvale as residents protested over a three-week power outage. Police and firefighters were on the scene while waiting for a representative from the municipality to address the crowd of about 60 people.
Community members said they had been waiting since 7am on Tuesday for an update since complaining to the municipality via ward councillor Ongama Adonisi, who had allegedly not arrived to give them feedback.
Resident Ulakhe Siyaya said, “We will not stop protesting and burning these tyres until we have electricity – we will sleep here if we have to. Our children have to wash with cold water before going to school.”
Ward 17 councillor Mncedisi Mbengo arrived on the scene and phoned the technical services department.
“We were voted for by the people and therefore it is our duty as councillors to serve them. Seeing people protesting about a basic need, means there is something wrong and that we are failing our people.”
Nompumelelo Lusu said power outages were not new to the ward and that the issues had been reported to EMLM executive mayor Lindiwe Gunuza-Nkwentsha in May.
“We waited for weeks but no one came to help us because the municipal workers were on strike. A month later, two circuit breakers were installed but since there are too many of us who connect to it, it burnt out three weeks ago and we have been living in the dark ever since.”
Ward committee member Welile Oliphant said the municipality’s technical services personnel arrived last week with an old and rusty circuit breaker which started tripping just after it was installed.
“They took an old circuit breaker which continues to trip. We were promised new prepaid electricity boards a long time ago and we are still waiting.”
Some community members were complaining that the interrupted power supply was damaging electric appliances and that there were rumours of illegal electricity connections. By the time The Rep left, no other municipal officials or councillors had arrived.
Oliphant confirmed on Wednesday that a municipal vehicle arrived late on Tuesday and residents were told that two circuit breakers would be provided.
“They promised to come back saying we would not sleep without electricity, but they did not. We slept again without power. We
knew we were being lied to because we were once told that circuit breakers needed to be ordered – the municipality does not have them in storage.”
The protests continued during Wednesday afternoon as power had not been restored.
Adonisi, responding telephonically yesterday, said he was at the technical services offices. While the circuit breaker seemed to be ready, some other equipment was needed, but it was hoped that the electricians would be on their way to restore the power yesterday.
In nearby Tarkastad (which used to fall under Tsolwana), residents outraged by a lack of intervention in a power outage which had lasted since Thursday, fixed a cable themselves on Saturday, restoring electricity to five homes.
Afriforum vice-president Charmaine Jonk said the town was plagued by power outages and that despite requests for meetings with EMLM, these had not materialised.
Last Thursday, a construction company working on a road in the town allegedly damaged a cable, plunging five households into darkness. When there had been no response from EMLM by Saturday, residents joined efforts with an EMLM employee who does not have the necessary equipment, to repair the cable themselves, she said.
In addition, the town’s high school had been without power since last Monday after a circuit breaker burnt out. The school’s hostel had lost food valued at R33 000 and the electrical appliances were destroyed. The power was restored on Saturday morning with the aid of community members.
Principal Gerhard Kitching told the Daily Dispatch that he had reported recurring power problems to EMLM but to no avail.
Jonk said residents of the town were considering forming a Concerned Community Forum with representation of all towns in the Chris Hani District to raise issues of concern with the municipalities.
Queries were sent to the EMLM communications section but no response was received.
STILL A SAD SIGHT: The virtually empty Bonkolo Dam, captured via drone photos provided by Leon Annandale of Komani, benefited from a stream of water which poured into the dam after almost 100mm of rain earlier this month
LIVING IN THE DARK: Newvale residents burn tyres in protest against recurring power outages