Maverick Citizen

ELECTRICITY FAILURE

‘Misty conditions’ and a ‘burning tyre’ take out power in Nelson Mandela Bay

‘Misty conditions’ and a ‘burning tyre’ take out power in Nelson Mandela Bay
sparks fly off the high-voltage Summerstrand substation in Nelson Mandela Bay on Monday morning before a power outage that the metro blamed on ‘misty weather’. (Photos: Screengrabs)

The metro suffered extensive power outages on Monday after several substations tripped.

Large parts of Nelson Mandela Bay, including the industrial area, were without power throughout Monday. The municipality, in an official report, said that “misty weather” caused several substations to trip.

However, the acting city manager, Luvuyo Magalela, who is also the head of the electricity department, wrote to executive mayor Gary van Niekerk, saying that while the outages could have been caused by misty conditions, the city’s fibre optic network, used to monitor the electrical system, was damaged when a burning tyre was shoved down a manhole. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Nelson Mandela Bay mayor offers R20,000 reward after cable ‘sabotage’ causes extensive electricity outages

According to its annual report, the municipality has installed an extensive, mainly underground, fibre optic network and “Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (Scad) requirements, linking more than 80 major high-voltage substations and other buildings”. 

An official notice from the metro stated: “We request residents to exercise patience while the high voltage substation needs to water washing [sic] on 132/11 kv busbars before the restoration of power supply.”

A video was shared of this high-voltage substation with sparks shooting off the electricity lines.

The metro’s call centre also went offline on Monday.

‘No coherent plan’

The metro has had 39 unscheduled power outages since 1 February. Causes included a fire at the large Arlington substation, a cable fault in Algoa Park that took several days to repair and an emergency shutdown of electrical infrastructure in Humewood. 

In February, the leader of the Democratic Alliance in the council, Retief Odendaal, sent a letter to Van Niekerk highlighting factors that point to a collapse in the electricity department. The department has 696 vacant posts — a 60% vacancy rate.

“It is clear,” Odendaal’s letter read, “that some of our older substations are in desperate need of extended maintenance or repairs or upgrades 

“If our estimations are correct (based on the number of reported streetlights by ward councillors) there are currently between 8,000 and 10,000 faulty streetlights across the city.

“This is one of the main service delivery complaints of residents and ward councillors are at their wits’ end trying to get answers from the directorate. 

“There is seemingly no coherent plan to address the increasing backlog in faulty streetlights. Our communities remain in the dark. This is a massive concern and our failure to address this issue is exposing our residents to adverse risk, as we are making them targets for criminals amidst the tidal wave of crime that we have recently experienced.

“While we have seen fewer isolated outages as a result of temporary connections because we had far less rain over the summer months, it is concerning that the directorate has made little progress in eradicating the temporary connections. These connections remain a danger to our community and long outstanding, unsafe temporary installations could very well constitute a break of our licensing agreement with Nersa [the National Energy Regulator of SA].”

No communication

The letter adds that there is no communication between officials and councillors.

“Unfortunately the crisis communication from Energy and Electricity has now become so woeful that councillors are very often unable to provide communities with reasons for extended outages. This results in great unhappiness in our communities, leading to people flooding the call centre with queries or in the alternative leading to unnecessary protest.”

Odendaal asked that the metro’s council be provided with a list of the most vulnerable electrical substations needing additional funding for infrastructure upgrades.

He said he had received no response to the letter.

“There are big problems there. We went to do oversight on the Coega substation and it still looks like it did a year ago,” he said.

A year ago, the Coega substation exploded, causing millions of rands in damage. The substation supplies electricity to high-energy users in the Coega Development Zone.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Massive explosion and electricity outages leave Nelson Mandela Bay facing a week without water 

Odendaal said their investigation and oversight showed that nothing had been done in the past year to restore a permanent electricity supply to these businesses.

The explosion triggered a far-reaching probe into what Odendaal, who was mayor at the time, described as the biggest corruption scheme in the history of the metro. The metro’s electricity department is being investigated by the Hawks and several of its senior members have been placed on precautionary suspension.

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

The head of the department, Luvuyo Magalela, is now the acting city manager. The city manager, Noxolo Nqwazi, has been suspended as she faces criminal charges for alleged corruption during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The former acting city manager and the metro’s chief operating officer, Christopher Dyantyi, resigned in 2023 because he was under investigation by the Hawks for overstating his qualifications to get a higher salary. The mayor, Van Niekerk, is also being investigated for allegedly unlawfully using a council letterhead to obtain legal services when he was suspended from a previous position.

Van Niekerk is being kept in his position by an ANC/EFF coalition in the city.

Load shedding

Odendaal, who is also a former mayor of the metro, said there were big problems in the electricity department.

“I don’t think there has been sufficient maintenance. It is also true that the infrastructure is being hammered by constant load shedding,” he said.

Nersa has not yet responded to a request for comment, but Odendaal said the municipality’s licence to provide electricity could be jeopardised if it was found that it was carrying out inadequate maintenance.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Retrenchments loom as Nelson Mandela Bay businesses lose R1bn a month to load shedding

The CEO of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, Denise van Huyssteen, said they noted Monday’s power outages “with concern.”

She said many of the metro’s industrial areas such as Struandale and Deal Party, where larger manufacturers are based, were badly affected, not only by the outages but also by subsequent power surges and dips.

“Quality and reliability of electricity supply is a key concern, especially for manufacturers operating in the metro. When power dips occur, this causes scrap and wastage of products, resulting in production and export targets not being met and additional costs being incurred.

“There have been numerous power outages which have occurred in the industrial areas of Nelson Mandela Bay since January 2023.

“It is vital that the regular maintenance and upgrading of electricity infrastructure is undertaken to protect the quality of supply and address the root causes of power dips and outages,” Van Huyssteen said. DM

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