Buffalo City claims that it loses millions to illegal connections

Buffalo City Metro Municipality is clamping down on the theft of electricity. Photo by Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

Informal settlement residents continue to reconnect themselves to the electricity grid after the municipality disconnects their illegal supply.

The Buffalo City Metro Municipality (BCMM) in the Eastern Cape loses approximately R228-million to illegal connections per year. This is according to a BCMM statement issued by municipal spokesperson, Samkelo Ngwenya early this week.

Ngwenya said last week alone, law enforcement officers escorted the metro’s electricians to Mzamomhle and Mdantsane townships to disconnect 650 illegal connections.

Ngwenya said the many illegal connections overload the grid, causing transformers to burn which the BCMM Electricity and Energy Services department has had to replace at an alarming rate.

He said in some areas, transformers are replaced on a monthly basis.

“In the last three months during the covid-19 period, more than 12 transformers were replaced and this has depleted the stock of the municipality. Of the 12, six of them have already blown up and need to be changed,” Ngwenya said.

Elitsha visited three informal settlements where BCMM disconnected the electricity last week and in all the areas the lights were back on.

There are informal settlements where electricity is connected straight from the transformer.

One of the informal settlements is not far from Mount Ruth; we were told that each house donated R150 to buy a transformer. Even though it was not clear where the transformer was bought, the residents assured us that they are using a professional electrician to install the electricity.

Organising electricity poles and lines and to distribute the electricity to each house normally costs residents R6,500 to R7,000 but the money is divided among 50 households.

This informal settlement has about 300 shacks but not all are connected from the transformer. Residents said BCMM have tried to cut their illegal connections only recently but for the last two years turned a blind eye.

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Residents said connecting from the transformer is a safe and protected way for illegal connection.

This informal settlement is part of the Mdantsane cluster1 housing project; other areas include Masibambane, Ilinge, Velwano and Dacawa. The housing project has started in Dacawa.

A resident who asked to remain anonymous said BCMM has taken so long to build them houses and they are tired of waiting.

“We just refuse to live in the dark; they can disconnect our electricity. We will install it again until they give up or they build us houses,” she said.

Residents of Nkandla informal settlement in East London recently protested to be connected to electricity services. Photo by Anele Mbi

In Gomora informal settlement near NU6 in Mdantsane, residents said BCMM was in the area to disconnect electricity. However, when we visited the area most houses had electricity.

In this informal settlement angry residents said BCMM only disconnected their illegal connections, leaving those who live in houses to continue tampering with electricity.

We were shown two RDP houses that are using illegal connections with a wire connected to the electricity lines clearly visible.

Resident, Akhona Sifumba, said it is common in Mdantsane to use illegal connections while living in RDP houses. She said it is mostly used by tenants who are renting the RDP houses.

“I guess rent is too much and now a person has to deal with buying electricity. BCMM electricity is very expensive and illegal connection adds another nightmare to those who buy electricity,” she said.

In his 2020 State of the City Address, the BCMM Executive Mayor, Xola Pakati, said: “We have since the start of the term spent R548-million on electricity which has seen the electrification of around 5,200 formal households and 1,288 informal dwellings.”

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“In the next financial year, we will spend R121-million, of which R18-million is set aside for electrification, thus electrifying an additional 133 households and 700 informal dwellings.”

“Each year for the past 10 years we have been able to decrease the number of households without access to electrical connections by an average of 8 percent per year. In 2008, we had some 71,300 households without electrical connection. We have reduced this to 30,400 households.”

Ngwenya said BCMM has a backlog of eight transformers in the electrical network that need to be replaced after they were blown up as a result of illegal connections.

He said, “Not only is the municipality experiencing strain on the network as a result of illegal connections, but our transformers are also being stolen.  This is putting enormous pressure on our maintenance teams. It’s also depleting the city’s budget and is leaving honest and hard paying consumers in the dark.”

Ngwenya said they suspect syndicates are behind the proliferation of illegal connections.

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