South Africa

COMMUNITY STRIFE 

Mpophomeni protesters pull back after days of violence outside Howick over electricity issues

Mpophomeni protesters pull back after days of violence outside Howick over electricity issues
The new electricity transformer installed at the Korea township in Mpophomeni near Howick on 14 July 2022. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

Service delivery protests in parts of KwaZulu-Natal this week coincided with the first anniversary of the July riots. In Howick, protests signalled rising tensions between the ANC and the DA-run uMngeni municipality over electricity provision.

Services in uMngeni’s Howick and Mpophomeni were disrupted this week as residents clashed with the municipality over the provision of electricity.

On Thursday, the situation remained tense but residents returned to the municipal offices seeking services or renewing licences.

The protests coincided with the first anniversary of the July riots, alarming businesses, NGOs and residents as they feared that it would spark a repeat of last year’s looting and destruction. As a result, the Mpophomeni Mall and many other local businesses shut their doors.

Tensions escalated last week when one of the transformers in Mpophomeni Township’s Ward 11, also known as Korea, exploded, plunging the area into darkness for days.

Residents of Mpophomeni closed off Howick after being without electricity since last week Tuesday due to a blown transformer. Umngeni mayor Christopher Papas addressed the protesters, trying to calm the situation. (Photo: Supplied)

On Sunday morning, residents blocked the R617 highway past the township, which heads to southern KZN towns such as Underberg, Bulwer and Impendle. 

Residents had demanded to meet with mayor Chris Pappas, who was installed in November 2021, when the DA made a clean sweep in the municipality, gaining its first KZN municipality, without a need of a coalition.

Party Politics

The DA took 47% of the vote in the local government elections, while the ANC –  which was previously in charge of the municipality – only managed 39%. The DA also won 13 of the Umngeni Municipality’s 25 council seats.

Pappas has insisted that the transformer would only be fixed once an audit has been conducted on how many residents in Korea were paying for electricity. He wants illegal connections to be switched off. 

The protests only stopped on Tuesday, when it was agreed that the broken transformer would be fixed while the connection audit is conducted.

During and after the protest, the ANC in the Moses Mabhida region claimed that the electricity issues and protests proved that Pappas and the DA failed to service poor black residents. 

Pappas and his party, however, say the ANC is inciting residents to protest violently.  

Residents of Korea township in Mpophomeni near Howick hope their electricity problem will be sorted after a new transformer was installed on 14 July 2022, (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

Tense but calm

When Daily Maverick visited Ward 11 on Thursday morning, electricity and calm had been restored. Workers, under heavy guard, were on the electricity poles and conducting the audit. 

Members of the local community were also there to ensure that nobody harms those who are conducting the audit.

uMngeni municipality workers conduct an electricity meter audit in the Korea township in Mpophomeni near Howick in the KZN Midlands on 14 July 2022. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

Nonkululeko Khumalo, a resident, said life was tough without electricity in the middle of winter. 

“Many of us don’t care about politics. We don’t care who is in charge of the municipality, as long as we get basic services. But many community members who had their food rotting in fridges because of the unexplained electricity cut-offs, were further angered when the mayor refused to address them,” she said.

Sbu Kunene, head of the local committee, said community members were forced to protest after being without power for almost seven days.

“Now that the electricity has been restored, members of the community are happy. They are also allowing the electricity audit to continue. I think this protest would not have been necessary had the mayor and the municipality handled this matter with care,” he said.

Sbusiso Kunene, a resident of Korea township in Mpophomeni in the KZN Midlands, blamed the mayor, on 14 July 2022. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

Thulani Mthalane, Ward 11 (ANC) councillor, said angry community members had marched to his house twice, demanding electricity.

“We are relieved that this matter has been resolved. It was a nightmare that we all, including the municipality, the councillors and the community, could have handled better,” he said.

More than an inconvenience 

The protest had an impact beyond the uMngeni Municipality, as neighbouring towns said they were blockaded for days due to the protest.

Russell Suchet, co-founder of the Sani Lodge Backpackers in southern Drakensberg, said the R617 road is a lifeline for residents as it connects them to hospital, shopping or other businesses.

“Underberg and surrounding areas are reliant on this road. When it is closed it has a negative impact on the whole area. As a business that is involved in tourism, our guests… are affected because they have to take alternative routes and they don’t know this area. This has affected us every time that the road is closed due to protests in Mpophomeni over the past few years,” he said.

Pointing fingers

But Njabulo Mtolo, the ANC’s Moses Mabhida regional spokesman, blamedthe DA for the chaos in Mpophomeni.

“The DA says that the main instigator for the chaos in Mpophomeni is the ANC. We want to refute this and state that, in our view, the main instigator is the DA itself, particularly through its reckless and arrogant mayor, Chris Pappas. The failure of the mayor to address the genuine grievances of our people led to this situation to be where it is,” he claimed.

Pappas, though, was adamant that the ANC was to blame, saying the party has not come to terms with losing the municipality and was now using every opportunity to cause chaos. He said the ANC loathed what his administration has achieved since taking over eight months ago.

“We found a municipality that was in severe distress. Financially, the municipality was barely paying salaries. We were either going to default on paying salaries or on paying Eskom [for electricity]. We were drawing money from core service issues to pay those things. There was a severe lack of leadership, an organisation that was rudderless with no direction. 

“The ANC doesn’t know how to be an opposition; all they know is how to disturb and destroy. They need to find their voice and find their role as an opposition to ensure that government works,” he said, adding that the opposition’s role is to ensure that the governing party is accountable and doesn’t become complacent. DM

 

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andrew Wright says:

    There is so much more to this story than is reported here – for instance, the reason the transformer blew was because of the number of illegal connections to it PLUS the ANC were providing sandwhiches and taxi rides to protestors to encourage chaos PLUS the Municipality were prevented from informing the residents who were “cut off” why they were doing the audit & why it was necessary etc etc etc – let us see what the Council does next week. They have evidence of ANC councillors promoting violence & destruction of property .. it may be enough to cause chaos in the local ANC but who knows!!

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Who do YOU believe? I certainly believe Chris Pappas.

    Meantime…. How long does it take for a comment to get through the bureaucracy to get published? As they say, just asking.

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