REPORT & REFLECTION
Tshwane still busy with multimillion-rand repairs to vandalised pylons, theft case opened
The Tshwane municipality continues efforts to repair damaged pylons that collapsed two weeks ago, leaving large parts of the city without electricity.
Mayoral spokesperson Sipho Stuurman said in a statement to Daily Maverick yesterday that the repairs would be carried out in two phases.
“The first phase, which has already been completed, entailed building a temporary 150 MVA line that will alleviate load from the current back feed network as it was operating under extreme pressure. Phase 2 of the reconstruction process, which is still being designed, would entail building 300 MVA. The costs for repairs of the vandalised pylons have not yet been finalised, though it is estimated to be around R7-million.”
Stuurman said a case of theft and malicious damage to property had been opened by the City of Tshwane at the Silverton police station.
Heavy thunderstorms hit various parts of Tshwane at around 9pm on 9 April, and power outages occurred almost immediately. Many assumed this was regular load shedding, but power had still not been restored by Monday afternoon.
As the hours went by, Mamelodi residents suspected the blackout was caused by something much more serious.
Their fears were confirmed when the City of Tshwane announced on the evening of 10 April that pylons along the N4 freeway between Solomon Mahlangu Drive and Simon Vermooten Road had been vandalised and that power lines were down.
Areas affected by the blackout included the township of Mamelodi, where I live, Queenswood, Montana, Eersterust and some eastern suburbs such as Silver Lakes and Wapadrand.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Collapsed pylons – 48 hours in the dark and counting for Tshwane residents, City asks Eskom for help
Power began returning to most areas late on Wednesday and Thursday that week, but there were still parts of the city in darkness.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Four days and counting – Tshwane says power restored to 40% of areas following pylons collapse
City of Tshwane mayor, Cilliers Brink, sent a statement to Daily Maverick on the evening of 13 April:
“Work is underway to replace the vandalised and stolen pylons with monopoles, which are more resistant to theft and vandalism so that we can reconnect the 132KV line. The restoration of this line is the only guarantee of a stable power supply. We are following up with police regarding their investigation of theft and vandalism regarding this incident.”
The City of Tshwane estimates that about 300MW of power was lost due to the destruction of the pylons.
Brink dismissed speculation by some members of the Tshwane community that the vandalism of the pylons was the work of foreign nationals.
Many parts of Tshwane struggled during those five days without power.
I was forced to throw away food that had gone off in the fridge. For almost a week I used cold water to take a bath. ATMs were out of order and those looking for cash were left stranded. Telephone and cellphone lines were out and I was unable to communicate with anyone. I couldn’t use my laptop as its battery was flat; I couldn’t follow the news on television or listen to radio talk shows. I couldn’t even access Daily Maverick’s online news stories.
For five days I munched on Mamelodi’s version of a bunny chow, known as “sphatlho” – a hollowed-out quarter-loaf of white bread stuffed with atchar, chips, polony and vienna sausages. My mother, a pensioner, survived on canned fish, baked beans and bread. She took a cold bath for five days without complaining, pointing out that she and her siblings had grown up without electricity in the rural areas of Limpopo in the 1940s.
My neighbour, Mado Motau, almost had her house burn down after she lit a primus stove to cook dinner. The flame flared up unexpectedly and her children had to scramble to put out the fire.
“Somebody warned me a long time ago about the dangers of a primus stove… I will never use a primus stove again,” said Motau, relieved that her house had not caught alight.
Taking literally the Chinese proverb about lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness, residents flooded spaza shops in search of candles during those five dark days.
Phomolong informal settlement leader, Duke Masemola, told Daily Maverick that the power outage affected him psychologically and financially.
“In order to be able to cook, I was forced to buy a gas stove, which I personally don’t like as it can be dangerous… My children had to go to school in crumpled uniforms as there was no way these could be ironed. The whole thing was a disaster… To be honest with you, the incident bears the hallmarks of a failed banana republic,” fumed Masemola.
Masemola suffered a double whammy in that there was also a water shortage where he works in the eastern suburbs of Tshwane.
“I leave home reeling from an electricity blackout and when I get to work there is a water shortage,” he complained.
Tshwane ANC caucus spokesperson, Joel Masilela, said it would be “very difficult to associate such a criminal activity with foreign nationals as there isn’t such evidence before us, except to say that the vandalism and theft of the pylons is an act of criminality”.
Masilela told Daily Maverick that he had to resort to building a fire to cook over.
“The electricity blackout was not just an inconvenience, but a disaster for me personally, my family and the community at large. Even making the ground fire came at a cost. A 5kg bag of wood costs no less than R20 and one had to travel to the suburb of Silver Lakes to buy it,” lamented Masilela. DM