Alex residents march for electricity

Alexandra residents handed over a memorandum of demands to City Power on Monday. Photo by Thembisani Dube.

Residents who have been without electricity for years marched to City Power demanding that they be connected to the grid.

Residents of Alexandra and neighbouring informal settlements took to the streets in a march to demand a stable power supply to the community. A series of protests in recent weeks have raised problems with the electricity supply in winter when demand is high, and blamed authorities for not doing anything to address the issue. The march which was led by Moshe Mphahlele, a proportional representation (PR) councillor in the City of Johannesburg for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), visited Alexandra police station, councillors’ offices and the local offices of City Power in Bramley.

“At the police and metro cops we wanted accountability as they are perpetuating crime by harassing residents and taking bribes, and councillors, we told them to start doing their jobs to show they deserve their hefty salaries which is the tax payers money, while we told City Power to take their job seriously by maintaining infrastructure,” says Mphahlele.

There has also been a growing call from the government that while the infrastructure is old and cannot accommodate the demand from the current population, the situation is exacerbated by illegal connections and non-payment for services. Mphahlele refuted this and said that the majority of people are law abiding citizens and willing to pay if they can be connected using meter boxes and have their electricity supply. “We want them to electrify areas that don’t have electricity at all so that they don’t steal from others. Once this is done, electricity will go smoothly.”

Some of the people at the march spoke of their hardships of not having stable electricity. “This is affecting us physically and financially. I need to now and then buy paraffin and candles. My kids need to read but you will find there are no lights. We also heard that to fight corona you must eat warm food and stay in a warm place but now with paraffin you can’t do that,” says Phindile Mdedu of Greenville informal settlement.

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Another community member who took part in the march, Ntombi Xola, says since 2018 when a fire tore through their settlement, they have not had services and the councillor never fulfilled her promises. “It’s not only electricity we are crying about. We are also struggling with water and toilets,” she says. “After shack fires these services were never replaced. Life without electricity is difficult.”.

Eskom spokesperson, Sikonathi Mantshantsha, says though Eskom is not directly supplying Alexandra, challenges are similar elsewhere in areas where Eskom is responsible.

“Lots of people are not paying electricity; others are stealing cables and this affects those that are paying. Even if we can install meters in every house, this won’t help as the main house [can] supply 10 to 20 backrooms and in most instances the meter has been bridged meaning the landlord is not paying electricity while he collects money from the tenants,” he says. This adds pressure on mini substations and transformers which eventually explode and replacing them is costly. At level 5 of the lockdown, moreover, it was difficult to find parts and replace burned transformers as most factories were closed.

“In Gauteng alone it costs almost a billion rand a year to replace transformers and each one costs around R100,000 to R300,000 to replace. So people who are stealing don’t contribute anything to this while those who are paying suffer. In areas where we supply we came with a load reduction plan as a temporary measure to reduce the load but still this doesn’t help as people cannot afford to wait long hours without electricity. Therefore, a long-term solution is for people to start paying.”

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Stan Itshekgetseng, spokesperson for the MMC of Infrastructure and Environment Services in the city, says they have already started auditing houses with backrooms in Alexandra so that they can start fitting each of them with a meter. “We think this way will help ” he says.

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