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Scores of residents in informal settlements near Alexandra vowed to keep connecting to electricity illegally until the City of Johannesburg formalises their areas with proper service infrastructure. This is after yesterday’s protests which ended with one protester shot dead and another admitted to hospital with rubber-bullet wounds. It is alleged that while protesting near Alex Mall on London road and with the fear of the looting, mall security opened fire, fatally shooting one of the protesters.

“We don’t have a choice, we want services. To connect illegally is the only way. We have engaged City Power several times to install us meters so that we can pay but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. They just only come to cut and leave us with no solution. It is so sad that as rightful citizens we are treated like this,” says Beauty Sekete, one of the residents at Riverpark flats. The area has since become a hotspot every time City Power conducts raids against illegal connections.

The area was occupied about five years ago after it was abandoned when the appointed contractor was liquidated and could not complete the block of flats, which were meant for Football for Hope World Cup 2010. Community members of Alexandra who were disgruntled as a result of the long waiting list for houses decided to forcefully occupy the flats, despite the absence of bulk service infrastructure such as water, electricity and sanitation. “Everything you see around here is bridged. Those water Jojo tanks haven’t been cleaned in a long time. They [Joburg Water] keep throwing water inside. They also take time to replenish them meaning while waiting you can’t bath and cook. We are humans. We deserve some dignity,” exclaims another resident, Hannes Moja.

“Meanwhile we will keep connecting. They’ll come to cut, we’ll connect again. How long will this cat and mouse game carry on? Until they shoot us all? Now they have shot one of us, next time they come here we are going to react very badly,” says Solly Mphahlele, a resident of Riverpark flats.

Smangele Khulakhethi says some of them have kids, are unemployed and depend on informal trading. For them, electricity is one of the most important basic services. “Funny this thing happens just after we were told to register to vote. I don’t think I’m going to vote,” she says, adding that they do not expect any political party to canvas in their area.

Speaking on behalf of City Power, Isaac Mangena says the operation to remove illegal connections was conducted together with relevant law enforcement agencies and that they managed to remove about 23-tonnes of aluminium and copper cables worth an estimated R27-million. “Illegal connections pose the biggest challenge to reliable electricity supply in the city of Johannesburg. Not only is it dangerous but costs the City millions in lost revenue. In Alexandra, there are several hotspots of illegal connections which are the cause of the frequent outages in the township. Illegal connectors have also vandalised streetlights in areas that include London road, and Vasco da Gama,” reads City Power’s statement.

The mini substations in the area have reached their maximum load capacity. In Riverpark alone, City Power claims to have spent about R2.5-million to replace burnt mini substations and pole-mounted transformers in the past six months. Mangena says that they have requested both the metro police and SAPS to gather intelligence on the ring leaders of illegal connections, including those who from City Power and their contractors, may be reconnecting them.

Self-connections at Riverpark flats

Mangena says City Power is not able to electrify the Riverpark area until it is proclaimed by the housing authorities. “The office of the MMC has advised the residents to start the process by approaching the Human Settlements Department and the office will help to facilitate the process.

“It is worth pointing out that it is in the interest of City Power to electrify informal settlements as it enables us to monitor consumption and adjust capacity accordingly while we strive to cater for all the residents. It also enables the City to generate much needed revenue.” On the fatal shooting, he said the incident cannot be linked to their operation as it happened long after they had left the area.

Spokesperson of the provincial Department of Human Settlement, Castro Ngobese failed to provide more details on the proclamation of Riverpark as a residential area, except to say bulk infrastructure is the responsibility of the municipality. “Collecting revenue for electricity, water, rates, waste refusal is the competence of the municipality,” he says.