South Africa


Eastern Cape town of Sterkstroom has been in darkness for two weeks

Eastern Cape town of Sterkstroom has been in darkness for two weeks
Sterkstroom in Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Wikipedia)

People and businesses in Sterkstroom in the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality have been without electricity for 17 days.

Sterkstroom residents in Enoch Mgijima municipality in the Eastern Cape will, by the end of the coming weekend, have spent three weeks without electricity. Local businesses are counting the cost as there is no clarity on when the council will restore power to the town.

Sterkstroom businessperson Arman Khan said he has lost more than R20,000 and all the meat in his freezer had gone off.

“We are struggling to pay rent and pay our employees. It’s been a long 17 days for local businesses and we will take time to recover from this.”

He said if electricity was not restored soon, local businesses would be forced to close.

A Sterkstroom butchery owner, Vuyani Nqayi, said their business involved highly perishable goods which needed constant and reliable electricity to keep the refrigerators running:

“Meat is our core stock line — we had to destroy a substantial quantity of meat in this period since the power crisis hit us. We have experienced an 80% loss in revenue to date and covering our operating expenses will be set far back.  Not to mention the negative impact this is having on the local economy.”

Nqayi said they were trying to work with the government, but the municipality was making it difficult for them to participate in the local economy.

Diminished Expectations? David Mabuza’s race for ANC deputy presidency hits Mpumalanga brick wall

Another businessperson, Juli Lee, said the impact on Sterkstroom businesses of not having power for more than a fortnight was severe.

“The only business that is making money is the petrol and paraffin business in the town. Shopkeepers have lost thousands of rands worth of frozen stock,” she said.

“It feels like no one is interested in helping us. If this carries on, our business in this little town will be down the tubes. Old people have lost so much in meat… where will they get the money to replace the lost meat?” she said.

DA PR councillor in Sterkstroom, Lindy Haggard, said the power outage was caused when the oil in a transformer ran low, causing it to blow up. The transformer requires 1,200 litres of oil to function, but it only had 200 litres in it.

Enoch Mgijima municipality spokesperson Lonwabo Kowa said the Sterkfontein transformer had been vandalised, possibly with the intention of stealing cables.

“They drained out over 1,000 litres of oil and left the transformer out of order. Oil was sourced, but the transformer was left in a bad state and now needs replacement. A procurement process is under way,” he said.

This is not the only challenge facing the municipality. Last month, independent councillors and the Eastern Cape Black Constructors Forum filed papers at the Makhanda High Court seeking an urgent interim interdict to stop a R98-million municipal contract for the rehabilitation of a 7km stretch of road in Ezibeleni.

The applicants want the municipality to hand over information related to the tender process, including the register for the closing of the tender, minutes of the bid evaluation and adjudication or award committees, the tender documents, a copy of the service level agreement entered into between the municipality and Makali Plant and Construction.

They want all the documents, which would include copies of the engineers’ report, drawings and business plan for the project.

Independent councillor Ken Clark said they would argue that municipal manager Nokuthula Zondani acted beyond her legal powers when she awarded the contract, and the project should be declared unlawful and set aside.

Speaking to Daily Maverick about the service delivery challenges in Komani, Clark said that repairs to the 6.9km Fikile Gwadana road should not cost more than between R36-million and R40-million.

“We are approaching the courts as the tender was irregularly awarded. You can’t go from R40-million to R98-million… you can go from R40-million to R45-million or something like that, with contingencies — that can be acceptable,” he said.

The municipality is opposing the legal challenge.

In addition, the Public Protector is investigating the construction of the Lesseyton Stadium in Komani. Built at a cost of R15-million, it has no running water or proper infrastructure.

Lisle Clark, CEO of soft drinks company Twizza and son of councillor Clark, said the municipality was neither cutting costs nor improving on revenue collection, despite these being the only ways to turn the situation around. 

“From a business perspective, what will happen when Eskom decides to switch off Enoch Mgijima municipality? If the municipality is not doing its job as far as the reticulation of electricity is concerned, then why don’t we just buy electricity straight from Eskom?” said Clark.

“We’ve been going on about this electrical problem since the account with Eskom was R40-million. It’s now R750-million. How can we just carry on talking and nothing happens?” said Clark. He said a municipality with a budget of more than R1.2-billion was unable to even pay its Eskom account.

The Komani businessman said the sewage system in Enoch Mgijima was also in a state of collapse. DA constituency leader Jane Cowley said sewage spills were common with residents saying their health is being affected.

“In Komani, the residents of Westbourne and Mlungisi are exposed to sewage which flows into the Komani River alongside them. Some residents have to cross this river in order to get to their places of work.”  

Cowley said that in Ilinge, sewage was openly pumped from municipal sewage trucks into a dam alongside the village.

“This dam overflows into the Swart Kei River which is used for irrigation purposes downstream.”  

She said the wastewater treatment works in Komani are being upgraded, but the budget is far too small and the plant will become only partly functional. 

“The water flowing from the works into the Komani River is currently effectively untreated. There are residents with the requisite skills to manage the plant effectively, provided the government upgrades the plant completely. However, no budget seems to be forthcoming.”

Chris Hani District Municipality spokesperson Bulelwa Ganyaza blamed the sewage problem on theft and vandalism of council infrastructure.

Ganyaza said “theft and vandalism of municipal infrastructure affect the provision of water and sanitation services in the district, and communities suffer the most.”

According to Clark, “environmental waste management is non-existent and there are fires at the dumpsite on a regular basis, which are illegal and are putting toxic gases into the air that residents around the dumpsite breathe in on a daily basis — it’s a contravention of human rights as far as I’m concerned.”

Clark said domestic garbage wasn’t collected even though residents paid for the service.

“People are charged at the dumpsite to dispose of refuse while also paying for the services that are not rendered,” he said.

Komani resident Axolile Masiza agreed that refuse was not collected in Komani, and residents were now dumping it everywhere.

“In Sabatha Dalindyebo, Khayelitsha, Mlungisi, Ezibeleni and Nomzamo location rubbish is now dumped on open land. Sometimes people burn it. We are charged as ratepayers for refuse collection, but it is not collected,” he said.

Ezibeleni resident Xolani Ngxatu said he lives behind the landfill and they are the most affected by the pollution.

“The smoke from the site comes into our houses and we breathe the polluted air every day. I am an asthmatic person and the smoke affects me badly,” he said.

Kowa said the tip is managed properly, albeit with limited security personnel due to strained municipal finances.

“It is not safe to have the smoke coming from the landfill site into residences. The holes in the fence have also created a situation where some items are blown out of the site into the open area. The landfill site is fenced, but the scavengers made entry points, damaging the fence,” said Kowa.

He said the municipality is considering other options, including more security personnel to guard the area facing Ezibeleni where intruders gain entry. DM/OBP


[hearken id=”daily-maverick/9317″]


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.8% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.2% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.2% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.2%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options