Joburg communities protest against City Power

The utility says its ageing and damaged infrastructure is battling to cope with demand, and calls on electricity users to pay their bills

By Jabulile Mbatha

19 February 2024

Residents of Yeoville, Bellevue and Observatory protest at the gates of City Power in Johannesburg on Saturday, demanding that electricity be restored to their areas. Photo: Jabulile Mbatha

Frustrated by ongoing power outages, about 100 residents of Yeoville, Bellevue and Observatory protested at the gates of City Power in Doornfontein, Johannesburg on Saturday.

City Power says its ageing and damaged infrastructure is battling to cope with demand.

In a statement on 6 February, the utility said that power outages had increased after a fire gutted the Observatory substation in December, destroying the control room. “For a substation’s control room to be rewired and commissioned, it generally takes about 90 days,” the statement read.

The Bellevue substation is also down.

Yeoville resident Sissy Dzanibe said she’s lived in the area since 1999 and this is the worst period of power outages they’ve had. She said they have had inconsistent power since October. “I wear a uniform at work, but I’m unable to iron my clothes because of the lack of electricity,” she said.

Shop owner, Udon Riash, said his business has not been operating for two months. “We didn’t have electricity for 15 days, but the bill is still the same. I also owe three months of rent because I’m not making any money,” he said.

Many residents shouted out to officials how their food had spoiled as a result of the outages.

Claire Ceruti shouted: “I would love to see whether there’s been an increase of food poisoning in the past three months. I find myself asking if I cook food a little bit longer will it be okay? We already wasted so much money on food. It’s just a nightmare.”

City Power spokesman Isaac Mangena said: “Our analysis suggests that well over 50% of the customers are not paying accordingly or are illegally connected.”

Mangena called for patience as the power utility works on restoring the two faulty substations.

City Power general manager Arsenio Cossa said: “Consumption was too high which caused further problems. As we switched everybody on, it just spiked and the cables melted and tripped, so we made a decision to rotate the load.”

“Customers who are not paying are using the services without control. Most of the properties are not paying but if they are paying, they are not paying the full amount and the consumption compared to other areas is uncontrollable,” said Cossa.

The City’s Jack Sekwaila urged residents to pay for services. “The City needs the money to be able to deliver the service. Report those committing any theft of City properties as this causes significant financial losses,” he said.