Maverick Citizen


Nelson Mandela Bay hit by blackouts and lockouts as massive corruption probe starts

Nelson Mandela Bay hit by blackouts and lockouts as massive corruption probe starts
An investigation has been launched into the 'intentional tripping' of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro's biggest substation on Monday morning. It plunged a large part of the city into darkness. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Nelson Mandela Bay has been hit by lockouts and blackouts since Friday after workers vowed to shut down the city to protest against the suspension of their colleagues in the metro’s electricity department for what has been described as the biggest corruption scheme in the history of the administration.

‘The situation is not under control yet,” Nelson Mandela Bay’s mayoral committee member for electricity, Lance Grootboom, said on Monday after a large part of the city was plunged into darkness in what the political leadership believed was an “intentional act”. 

Mayor Retief Odendaal on Monday said the metro was heading for “a very difficult time”. 

The Eastern Cape’s biggest metro — home to many of South Africa’s vehicle manufacturing industries — has been on a knife-edge since Friday when electricity workers, unhappy about the precautionary suspension of seven officials from the municipality’s electricity department over an alleged massive corruption scheme, locked support staff out of their building. 

“The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality would like to issue residents with a precautionary warning of possible interruptions in electricity supply and/or delays in returning electricity after load shedding,” an urgent notice sent out on Friday morning read.  

“This is a direct result of some employees in the Electricity & Energy directorate today preventing their colleagues from entering their offices and from doing their work. We believe these actions are related to this week’s suspension of 7 officials from that directorate for their possible involvement in fraud and corruption.  

“We are working to ensure that normality returns, and services are not affected. The Hawks and SIU [Special Investigating Unit] are investigating the matter. Our Security Services are on high alert to secure municipal infrastructure. Any attempts to disrupt services will be dealt with swiftly,” the notice read.  

The alleged corruption scheme, described by the metro’s executive mayor, Retief Odendaal, as the “biggest yet in the history of the administration” was uncovered after a large substation in the Coega Industrial Development Zone exploded, causing widespread water outages, damage estimated at R40-million, and leaving factories and businesses in the area without power.  

Coega is home to 56 operational investors who employ 9,659 people from all over the Eastern Cape, particularly Nelson Mandela Bay.  

Millions of rands siphoned from city

Odendaal said the preliminary investigation showed that the network had siphoned millions of rands from city coffers in the last couple of years. He said the Hawks and the SIU had been asked to investigate further and he hoped that there would be swift progress.  

Seven officials from the metro’s Electricity and Energy Directorate were placed on precautionary suspension by the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro city manager, Noxolo Nqwazi. 

Nelson Mandela Bay

Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Retief Odendaal (right) said electricity workers who are unhappy about corruption-related suspensions in their department are planning to hold him and city manager Noxolo Nqwazi (left) hostage. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

On Friday, 21 April, colleagues of the suspended workers locked staff out of the electricity department’s offices. The electricity call centre was only operational again on Saturday.  

Nqwazi then issued a notice that those who disrupted the work of the electricity department would face disciplinary measures. Security services were deployed to protect substations.  

On Sunday, the electricity went off in parts of Motherwell and by Monday afternoon technicians were still working to restore it. 

On Monday morning, a large part of the city was plunged into darkness when the Chatty Substation, a crucial substation in the metro’s network, tripped. Grootboom said they had every reason to believe this was done deliberately as workers had been “actively disrupting” services.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Seven officials suspended for alleged supply chain corruption after explosion at Nelson Mandela Bay substation

“We received information over the weekend that the employees participating in these unlawful activities vowed to shut the metro down today. Also, the nature of the outages led us to believe that they were orchestrated. 

“The matter is not quite under control yet, with unions demanding the suspended officials be reinstated, but we obviously cannot do so because internal processes against them are under way and the allegations against them are being investigated by the Hawks and the Special Investigating Unit. 

“But we are managing the situation and will communicate with employees participating in this unlawful strike to return to work and desist from intimidating others not to do their work, or face disciplinary and/or other legal action,” Grootboom said.  

“This [the workers’ actions] may have an impact on our ability to switch groups on or off for load shedding, which may impact on our ability to shed the requisite load that Eskom requires at a particular time. But we have been managing the process since this situation started and some areas can be switched on or off remotely through our Scada network.”  

‘Staff have been intimidated’

Odendaal said they had received information from various sources to expect a “pushback” from within the electricity department when they started investigating.  

“Since Friday, staff have been intimidated in an attempt to prevent them from working. This led to certain areas having extended electricity outages over the weekend as the metro could not attend to any maintenance or repair work. 

“On Sunday, we received further information that some officials are planning a total shutdown of the city caused by large-scale blackouts. In addition, there is an apparent plan to hold both the city manager and myself hostage at City Hall.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Court challenge to SIU findings against Nelson Mandela Bay’s R26.4-million Covid spending fails

“I know these wilful acts of sabotage will affect our city extremely negatively. We, unfortunately, need to go through this pain in a bid to rid the institution of criminal elements that are strangling the life out of the city.  

“If we want to get our city working again, we simply have no choice but to rid ourselves of the criminal elements within the city. NMB’s coffers are not open for looting any more.  

“We will do everything in our ability to normalise the situation as quickly as possible as well as protect our honest, ethical and hardworking employees that are now being intimidated. I can assure the public, acts of subordination and intimidation will be dealt with swiftly and harshly,” Odendaal said. DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • David Walker says:

    All strength to Mayor Odendaal’s arm. There is a war going on between good government and ANC criminality. And the criminals will resort to violence and even murder. I suggest that the mayor and city manager beef up their personal security.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Normalise? What is normal? Isn’t corruption, destruction and violence the new normal?

  • Bryan Macpherson says:

    At what point do the illegal actions of the ANC and its cadres become treason?

  • Graeme J says:

    It’s time that sabotage be treated as treason. That’s exactly what it is. Lock ’em up for the rest of their lives without the option of parole. None of this “20 year life sentences”. Make it a real life sentence. Make the sentence mandatory for as long as they draw breath.

    • R S says:

      Can’t say I disagree with this. People in this country aren’t afraid of going to jail for a few years. Make it their entire lives.

  • Philip Wernberg says:

    This very act by colleagues of the suspended workers is an indication that they could also be involved in the alleged corruption. This act is a declaration of war on the citizens of Nelson Mandela Bay and needs to be dealt with swiftly. South Africans are tired of the brazen thievery going unchecked which is destroying the economy and perpetuating poverty.

  • Patterson Alan John says:

    Decisive and determined actions to root out anyone associated with criminal activity is vital to the long-term survival of any institution. The Mayor and his team are to be complimented for grasping the nettle. Uncomfortable as it will be for everyone, especially the Mayor and his people who carry the responsibility for this drastic action, everyone must support and applaud this decision. As soon as criminal elements realise that they will be arrested and jailed, the sooner society will return to civilised standards.
    The NMB Council is setting the scene for others to follow.
    Vasbyt mense – alles sal regkom!

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    Take this as a small example of what could happen when the ANC finally lose power.

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