Meter tampering and illegal connections plunge Edendale into darkness most nights

“We are without power at … least 48 hours a week” says resident

By Joseph Bracken

23 January 2024

Illegal connections to an electricity pylon in Mosow in Edendale, Pietermaritzburg. Photo: Joseph Bracken

Residents of Edendale, a township in Pietermaritzburg, say they have been struggling with inconsistent electricity supply for almost four years.

Since electricity was installed in July 2020, residents say each night, during peak hours, some areas are left in complete darkness.

Residents told GroundUp that the power often goes off for up to four hours every night, from 5pm to 9pm. This is the time when most people are returning from work and learners are doing homework. Residents complain that there has been no official explanation for why their community is plunged into darkness most nights.

But Eskom says the major contributing factor for the load reduction is households illegally connecting to the grid and bypassing formal electricity meters. The power utility says some areas in Edendale lose most of the electricity supplied to them because of theft.

Lindani Zondi, who has lived in a suburb of Edendale called Mosow since 2019, said they have not had electricity most evenings since 2020.

Zondi lives with his boss who runs a carwash business. The carwash business has suffered, he said, because they have to stop work at 5pm due to their pressure washers needing electrical supply.

The lack of electricity has meant that he can no longer cook or bathe in the evenings. He has resorted to buying takeaway meals for supper which has greatly increased his cost of living, said Zondi.

Another resident, Learnmore Madzikova, owns a welding business in the same area. He said that his business has also suffered losses due to “not being able to meet customer targets” when he can’t work in the evenings.

There are also numerous posts on social media by Msunduzi Municipality residents complaining about frequent power outages. One such complaint by Robyn Boshoff posted on 6 January, read: “Despite numerous calls, mails, Whatsapps etc to all involved we are again without power. If this sounds like privileged whining, bare in mind I pay over R9,000 pm for services I seldom or never receive. We are without power at the very least 48 hours a week - and that’s a good week (It’s been more like 5 days a week lately but our bills remain the same) … The electricity department gives us multiple reference numbers, no feedback and takes days to make ‘temporary fixes’ which give us a day or so power - until the next problem. Who can we talk to about this?”

Overloading the grid “damages electricity infrastructure, through explosions in overloaded transformers and mini substations that become a danger to properties and people in the affected communities,” said Gugulethu Dumakude, Central East Retail Senior Manager at Eskom.

The community of Mosow falls under the Dambuza network breaker which shows huge losses due to electricity theft.

Eskom has said it has prioritised areas with the highest losses and will be conducting audits to normalise the affected networks.

While Eskom works on a long-term solution to the problem, Dumakude said the short-term plan for Edendale is in the municipality’s hands. “Since the community plays a significant role in reducing overloading due to theft, several engagements were conducted with the ward councillor and community representatives to inform the community members to reduce overloading this network.”

Anele Makhanya, Msunduzi Municipality’s acting manager of communications and intergovernmental relations, said that to combat the illegal connections and bypassing of electricity meters the municipality is planning to implement a system to separate the networks between paying and non-paying customers.

The municipality did not respond to further questions about how it was managing the issue of meter tampering.