Blue skies, but danger sparks
At least three children have lost their lives due to illegal electricity connections in the Fynbos, Egoli and Vergenoeg areas in Buffalo City last year. However, each day new connections are set-up with the live wires getting lower and lower and within reach of children playing on the streets.
In the East Bank area, where over 180 families are illegally occupying newly-built houses, households have connected their own electricity using cheap thin wires, placing the lives of their own children in danger. The families were officially evicted last week, but moved back in hours later.
Mamsie Deki (48) who stays in the area says the izinyoka system is more dangerous when locals disconnect the wires when they know a municipal service vehicle is coming. This creates the impression that the connection is no longer working, but the wires are put back up again as soon as the vehicle leaves. “These children don’t listen, we keep telling them to not play underneath these wires or when they have been put down as they are still live, but they do not listen,” she says as she scolds the children playing under the many zig-zagging wires in her street.
Deki is aware of the dangers posed by these connections, but argues that they need electricity and the municipality refuses to install it for them. “We are aware that what we are doing is illegal and dangerous, but these houses are incomplete because of the conflict we have with our municipality. In the meantime, we need electricity for cooking and other needs,” she says.
According to Samkelo Ngwenya, spokesperson for the Metro, the City has an ongoing project of eradicating izinyoka by electrifying informal settlements. “However, not all shacks qualify for electrification as some are built on private properties and some are erected near low lying areas with water. In 2012 it was decided that electricity fines will be issued to illegal users, much the same as a traffic speeding fine”.
Deki adds that they would love to be responsible citizens who pay for their electricity but their uncertain living conditions do not match the requirements of the municipality. Other areas that are rife with illegal connections are the Cambridge location, eGoli and Postdam where shacks grow at an alarming rate.
The connections are not only posing a danger to the citizens who live here, but affect other municipal operations such as pump stations that now have damaged electrical transformers. “Buffalo City Metro is conducting raids for disconnection on these pump stations every Friday. The underlying causes of the illegal connections are both criminal and socio-economic, for which solutions are beyond the municipal responsibility.
A community leader in the East Bank area, Gerald Pastor admits that they are concerned about the unlawful connections, especially those by the squatter camps in their neighbourhood. “It is a messy job that will cost us dearly over time. The loss of those three children still haunts us, but I can see that the municipality is losing the battle of ensuring formal electricity so that we can all live a normal life,” said Pastor.
Detailing the method of fines, Ngwenya said this move was approved by Council and added to the Integrated Development Plan years ago.
Currently the removal of illegal connections is being done weekly by the police.