POWER OUTRAGE

Protests erupt in Protea South over electricity – again

By Bheki C. Simelane 26 July 2018

Eleven-year-old Shimane Williams, a Protea South resident, reacts after getting tear gas in his eyes during service delivery protests in the area on 25 July, 2018. Photo: Bheki Simelane

It’s less than a month since protest action broke out in Protea South over the supply over electricity to the area. On Wednesday residents again took to the streets, leading to running battles with police. At the end of the day, the community was no closer to getting answers.

Shimane Williams, 11, missed school on Wednesday. Instead of doing arithmetic and English, the Grade 5 pupil at Protea South Primary School was dealing with the after effects of tear gas.

Shimane was making his way to school when he got caught up in a service delivery protest in Protea South, Soweto. Residents in the area had begun gathering at about 2am and by 8am police had fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the crowds who hurled stones and bricks. Young men grabbed the whole side of a shack and used it as a shield to drive police back.

Shimane was just one of several children who suffered the effects of the tear gas.

This makes me angry. Our children are not safe,” Thabang Williams ,the young boy’s brother, fumed.

Residents blocked Chris Hani Road with burning tyres and rocks and prevented non-protesting residents from going to work.

Chaos erupted as some community members targeted Pakistani foreign nationals. A Coca-Cola depot was targeted but police arrived just as some community members were breaking it down.

Key to the residents’ unhappiness is the provision of electricity in the area. An electrification project in 2012 saw several, but not all, homes in the area connected to the grid. Residents living in homes that were not connected were told that they fell into an overflow area, were not part of the original Protea South community and thus fell outside the zone for electrification.

Frustrated with this situation, residents without power began illegally connecting to neighbours’ power supplies. This places pressure on the supply, puts the infrastructure at risk and results in power outages.

It’s this that caused residents to take the streets again on Wednesday.

Asked what the difficulty was in addressing the overflow, Protea South Councillor Joseph Matjila told Daily Maverick there was no budget to meet the community’s electricity demands.

Peter Manganyi, a resident, said there were people who had been in the area for decades but did not have electricity. He claimed new residents paid money for services and so were getting them ahead of others who had been living there for a long time.

The community wants Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba to address them, Manganyi said.

Community leader Abel Sithole said: “We want this issue of the overflow sorted out now. We have been patient for a very long time. We want the City of Johannesburg to come and explain this overflow and tell us when our electricity challenges will be addressed.”

Michael Chauke, 43, a father of three said: “I have been in Protea South for 17 years, but I don’t have electricity in Zone 1. When counting you start from one. Why am I without electricity when someone in Zone 6 who came yesterday is connected? This overflow is just an excuse. This is corruption at its worst and it’s been going on for a very long time. People who have just arrived have everything, we don’t.”

Train commuters were also delayed. Trains were temporarily stopped just before the Midway Station as some community members tried to block the tracks with stones.

The Protea Gardens Mall and businesses in the vicinity remained shut as residents protested nearby. Taxis to Lenasia were affected by the strike, and taxis and motorists were hit by the closure of two garages.

Daily Maverick reported on similar protests in May.

When contacted about the illegal connections, Environmental and Infrastructure Services MMC Nico De Jager said it was an Eskom issue. “It’s an Eskom supply area,” said De Jager.

Matjila did not respond to Daily Maverick’s question about what he was doing to address the overflow. Matjila previously said that he was discussing a temporary measure with Eskom, but added that there simply was no budget for the area.

Police tried to negotiate with residents in between the fights, but residents rejected them and demanded to see Mayor Mashaba. They said they would forcefully remove the new shacks if no one was willing to listen to them.

It was unclear whether the mayor will visit the area but residents vowed to continue protesting until they were heard. DM

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