Durban community fears life in the dark without streetlights

The City has hired private security after losing millions of rand annually to cable theft and vandalism

By Tsoanelo Sefoloko

26 June 2023

Members of the Community Policing Forum in Bester township marched on youth day to raise awareness about issues in the community which include the lack of streetlights due to cable theft. Residents say the area has been without adequate lighting for more than a year. Photo: Tsoanelo Sefoloko

The eThekwini Municipality has hired private security to guard its electrical infrastructure to mitigate rampant cable theft in the community of Bester near KwaMashu, Durban.

Residents say they have been living in the dark for more than a year now because almost all of the streetlights in Bester are either broken or have had their cables stolen. They say the situation has become worse in winter with more people leaving and returning from work in darkness.

Some people have begun charging between R20 and R70 to escort residents walking from their homes to public transport. We spoke to about a dozen residents, mostly women, who confirmed that they have to rely on the same alleged cable thieves to escort them.

Resident Bongi Mzobe told GroundUp that she quit her job because she could no longer pay the young man to escort her before 5am. “I would leave the house in the dark and come back late. In the morning I give the boy R10 and another R10 if I come back late. It was very frustrating because I was not getting paid much, and I still had to pay for transportation,” she said.

“The fear of walking alone and hearing about people being robbed was too much. I could no longer take it, so I quit my job.”

Community Policing Forum chairman, Thulani Hlophe, said that for months they have been using torches to assist in patrolling the area. “Community members bought us torches to patrol. The tricky part is that when we are coming the criminals see us, so it’s also not safe for us. Unlike when there’s lights, we can walk freely and target the crime hotspots,” said Hlophe.

On Youth Day two weeks ago, members of the CPF marched through the streets of Bester to show the community that they are serious about dealing with the high rate of crime and robberies. Hlophe said the vandalised streetlights were among the top issues raised in their memorandum.

Mdu Nkosi, Inkatha Freedom Party’s eThekwini district chairman, said the provincial and national governments are failing to properly fund community policing forums. “It’s so sad what our people go through while there’s a security company being paid every month to guard the cables, and they are failing.”

Municipality spokesperson, Lindiwe Khuzwayo, confirmed that two security companies signed a two-year contract, which started in October, to guard the cables and streetlights. When asked about the fee and conditions of the security contracts, Khuzwayo said, “We are not at liberty to share finances for the contract.”

According to Khuzwayo, the City has already lost millions of rand as a result of cable theft. She said cable theft is a serious issue in many communities.

“The City has always taken a strong stance against cable theft as it leads to devastating and tragic consequences, such as loss of life as well as damage to infrastructure costing the municipality millions of rand annually,” she said.