South Africa


Disconnected Mpophomeni residents stage protests over electricity meter audits

Disconnected Mpophomeni residents stage protests over electricity meter audits
Residents in Mpophomeni have closed off Howick after being without electricity since last week Tuesday reportedly due to a transformer in the area blowing up. Umngeni Mayor Christopher Pappas addressed the protesters on Tuesday, trying to remedy the situation. (Photos: supplied)

Early on Tuesday morning, protesters burned tires on the R617 in KwaZulu-Natal but some of the taxis and cars were initially allowed to pass through.

Mpophomeni residents have threatened to block the N3 highway should uMngeni Municipality persist with its decision to conduct meter audits before repairing a damaged transformer in the township.

Protests started on Friday afternoon by a group of people in Mpophomeni and resumed on Tuesday morning.

Early in the morning, protesters burned tires on the R617 but some of the taxis and cars were initially allowed to pass through.

A security company in the area confirmed that the R617 and Mandela Highway were blocked.

Simmering tensions

About 150 households from the Japan and Korea sections of Mpophomeni township have been without electricity since last Tuesday after a transformer in the area blew up.

The municipality blamed this on overloading due to illegal connections in Mpophomeni. The community then started protesting when uMngeni Municipality decided to conduct a meter audit before repairing the transformer.

uMngeni mayor, Chris Pappas said the municipality was incurring what would be known as “irregular expenditure” due to this protest.

“This is because we are having to deploy more security and hire vehicles for our traffic police as measures to increase our ability to respond. We are not able to go through the usual procurement mechanism due to time constraints and the emergency situation. We will disclose full expenditure once the situation returns to normal,” said Pappas.

Meanwhile, uMngeni offices were closed on Tuesday after the protesters stormed the municipal headquarters in Howick on Monday, blocking the gates and demanding to be addressed by Pappas.

A group of Mpophomeni residents took to the streets on Saturday and Sunday to protest against the meter audit.

According to uMngeni, some of the residents attempted to fix the transformer but they caused even more damage to it.

The municipality said a transformer and electricians were available but the electricity would only be restored once a meter audit has been conducted.

The residents first blocked the R617 road before they made their way to the municipal offices on Monday, demanding their electricity be restored and for Pappas to address them. They tried to force their way into the municipal offices but were removed by heavily armed police officers.

Representatives of the disgruntled community met with the municipal officials but the engagement apparently reached a deadlock.

The community then went and blocked Main Road, near the N3.

Pappas confirmed that a group of protesters came to the municipality and demanded to see him. He said he refused to address the mob because this would have further encouraged illegal behaviour.

He proposed that the protesters select 10 members to represent them in a meeting. He said after trying to meet on an amicable middle ground, the representatives walked out of the meeting.

“Each transformer costs about R150 000. To replace the transformer without an audit would lead to further wasteful expenditure.

“The protesters then started to break the gate to the municipal offices. Public Order Police then took action to stop the vandalism,” he said.

Alleged weekend violence

According to Pappas, on Saturday a municipal contractor’s vehicle was damaged and his employees were also held hostage while they were trying to repair the electricity infrastructure.

A video posted by Pappas on his Facebook page showed the vehicle with a broken windscreen, side mirrors and windows. He said staff also suffered shock from the incident.

Police were called but motorists were still unable to access the blocked road which caused a traffic jam.

Speaking to The Witness on Monday, one of the protesters said the community would not stop protesting until their electricity connections are restored.

“We want power to be restored and then the municipality can start with their audit. Even those audits are unfair because the municipality is well aware that people in the area are not employed and they can’t afford to pay for electricity.

“Life is really difficult without electricity, some old sick people need warm water for bathing and also cooking. There are a lot of people who have connected illegally in this municipality, but we are targeted and we won’t allow that.”

When asked about plans going forward, they said they would block the N3 soon until their plight is heard by national government.

Pappas said charges will be laid against those who have been vandalising property as well as those instigating the violence. He said the municipality has proof that some of these people are ward councillors.

Pappas issued a statement on Tuesday morning saying the municipality was planning to go to court to compel the public order policing unit to act.

“If they fail to do so we will hold them to costs and damages for not doing enough to intervene if necessary,” said Pappas.

“Like Eskom, we are only restoring electricity to high loss areas once the residents allow us to do meter audits which we are entitled to do. We will only fix the transformer once we have managed to access the majority of residents in the area to audit their meters,” said Pappas.

‘Political’ motivation

One of the Mpophomeni residents, who asked not to be named, believes the protest was more political than about electricity.

“The fact that my ward is an ANC-led ward in a DA municipality is also a problem. When the mayor wanted to speak to people about the indigent list, he was blocked. It’s like someone is trying to make this place ungovernable,” said the resident.

He said even though people can register for the free electricity units, people will continue to steal because many do not have money to pay for municipal services.

Other residents said the protest will continue until the mayor addresses them and restores their electricity.

Ward 11 councillor, Thulani Mthalane, said he was called by residents on Saturday who told him they wanted electricity to be restored.

“On the other hand, the municipality wants to do meter audits. We tried to speak to the residents as councillors but they said they wanted the mayor to address them. At this stage, we heard he didn’t want to address them,” said Mthalane. DM

First published by The Witness.


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