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Paarl community fed up after nine years without electricity

Paarl community fed up after nine years without electricity
About 100 residents marched to the Drakenstein municipal building to handover a memorandum. (Photo: Velani Ludidi)

Close to 100 residents from Thembani informal settlement in Mbekweni, Paarl, marched to the Drakenstein municipal building to revive their electricity demands on Thursday afternoon. 

Paarl is 61 kilometres from Cape Town CBD and is the largest town in the Cape Winelands. While famous for its mountains, the town recently made national headlines following the alleged murder of four-year-old Tamia Botha.

According to residents, Thembani informal settlement was formed in 2013 and their fight for electricity began in 2016. The tiny informal settlement, with around 200 shacks, is next to the Mbekweni train station in ANC-run ward 12. 

A woman holds a placard that reads ‘we want electricity’. (Photo: Velani Ludidi)

“The municipality has long neglected us,” said community leader, Phumla Magxothwa. “The previous administration promised us electricity but following last year’s local government election results, a new administration came in and told us they were unaware of any promises.” 

Magxothwa provided Daily Maverick with minutes of a meeting held on 14 September between community members and Drakenstein Municipality. The minutes show the community refused to accept the state of being without electricity due to municipal budget constraints. Furthermore, it was noted that R1-million had been allocated for informal settlements but the money was used for network upgrading in the area surrounding Dalweide substation for future connections. 

Magxothwa said Thembani could also have benefited from the money if the municipality cared about them. 

“Around 160 homes qualify to be electrified because other homes are built close to the railway line and need to be removed. That R1-million could have completed the electrification project because across the street, there are houses with electricity, meaning the infrastructure is there.” 

Electricity service delivery

Some shacks are built dangerously close to the railway line. (Photo: Velani Ludidi)

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Electricity is not the only challenge facing the community. Despite having 14 toilets to service the entire settlement, only five are operational and only two water taps are available. 

Around 200 families share two taps in Thembani. (Photo: Velani Ludidi)

“We pay around R300 a month for electricity,” said Bongekile Melikani. “If we had our own electricity meter boxes the money would be less and unemployed people would also afford to buy electricity even if it’s for R20. 

“There are also areas that were established after us but they already have electricity,” said Melikani. 

Thembani residents get electricity from houses across the street. (Photo: Velani Ludidi)

The community is considering approaching the courts to force the municipality to electrify their area but said they do not have money to pay lawyers. 

Deputy mayor Gert Combrink accepted the memorandum and promised to pass it to the mayor on Monday when he returns. 

Gert Combrink

Drakenstein deputy mayor Gert Combrink accepted the memorandum and promised to pass it on to the mayor. (Photo: Velani Ludidi)

Municipality responds

Marius Wüst, Executive Director: Engineering Services at Drakenstein Municipality said it is important to note that it is not the municipalities’ responsibility to provide electricity supply to informal settlements. 

“Municipalities are legally obligated to provide informal settlements with the following three services: 1. Water; 2. Sewerage; and 3. Waste removal. 

“Drakenstein Municipality supplies all 41 informal settlements in our municipal area with these three abovementioned services. Despite the fact that municipalities are not obligated to provide their residents with an electricity supply, Drakenstein Municipality recognises how important access to electricity is for our residents. That is why we embarked on a programme to provide electricity service connections to our informal settlements.” 

He added that so far, the municipality has provided 3,451 such connections, which provide over 47% of people on the recognised informal settlement list with electricity. 

Responding to the R1-million contained in the last meeting minutes, Wüst said the money was never redirected but is a limited amount and that all informal settlements (that have not yet been electrified) need to be considered. 

“Funding also has to be allocated to bulk infrastructure upgrades to make electrification possible. No promises were made to the Thembani informal settlement and its community in particular.” 

He also denied that there are informal settlements that were established after Thembani, that have been electrified.

After delivering the memorandum to Drakenstein Municipality, community members gathered at Paarl Magistrate Court where they asked for advice and whether free legal representation was available. 

The community says a local gang of extortionists has been targeting those who connect illegally and demand monthly payments. DM


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