Unrest erupts in Queenstown over blackouts

ANC supporters form human barrier to protect the party’s offices

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Hundreds of angry Enoch Mgijima municipality residents shutdown Komani township on Thursday morning, demanding an end to their ongoing electricity crisis. Photos: Mkhuseli Sizani

  • Hundreds of Enoch Mgijima Municipality residents shut down the town center in Komani (formerly Queenstown) on Thursday over ongoing power outages. Police responded with rubber bullets and teargas.
  • Residents want the “dysfunctional” municipality to be dissolved.
  • Mayor Madoda Papiyane says the municipality owes Eskom R890-million. He blames illegal connections and decaying infrastructure as the major causes of blackouts.
  • Papiyane promised to “change things for better” in his first 100 days in office.

Hundreds of Enoch Mgijima Municipality residents shut down the town center in Komani on Thursday. They are demanding that their electricity woes be resolved. They also want the “dysfunctional” municipality to be dissolved.

According to Mayor Madoda Papiyane, the municipality owes Eskom R890-million. He blames illegal connections and decaying infrastructure as the major cause for the blackouts.

Crowds of people began blocking the N6 between Aliwal North and East London at Hexagon Square as early as 6am. Public Order Police were called to disperse the residents. They resisted until officers fired teargas and rubber bullets.

ANC members then accompanied Mayor Papiyane, Chris Hani District Mayor, Wongama Gela, and other senior ANC office bearers in a motorcade. ANC members had apparently been discouraging people from joining the protest and this angered residents. The officials had to be escorted out of the area by police after angry residents started throwing water at the officials’ cars.

The group then moved their protest to the front of the ANC’s Chris Hani District office where over 200 ANC supporters formed a human barrier to protect the office.

ANC supporters formed a human barrier in front of the ANC’s Chris Hani District office where a large group of Komani residents were protesting.

Mncedisi Mbengo of the Komani Protesters Action said, “We want Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to intervene. Corrupt ANC leaders have destroyed this municipality. People’s electrical appliances have been damaged. The municipality only [restored] the electricity for the ANC celebrations last Saturday. Some areas had no electricity for two months and businesses are suffering.”

Raymond Isaac from Parkville said, “The ANC does what it likes with taxpayers’ money. Instead of fixing the problem, they just call the police to shoot at us. But we are not shaken, we will continue with the protest.”

Sinelizwi Jack, a mother of three from Mlungisi township said, “All the food and meat that I bought for school lunches is rotten in my fridge because we had no electricity for three days. Everything has come to a standstill. Our children could not go to school and rubbish was not collected.”

In Ezibeleni township, households have been experiencing electricity problems since 2017. As a result, many companies no longer do business in the area.

Xolani Ngxatu, chairperson of Independent Komani Residents Association (Ikora) told GroundUp that the township is the second largest after Mlungisi township in the municipality. He said the township was established in 1976 with one electricity substation. It has grown, with an industrial area and a new mall.

He said the municipality only installed two additional transformers to serve the entire community. Ngxatu said the lack of maintenance and loadshedding has exacerbated the problem.

“In 2017 one of the transformers in Zone Two was damaged. The municipality removed it and said it was sent to Johannesburg for repairs. Early in 2022 we protested for that transformer to be brought back. It was brought back in August but is still not working. It remains a white elephant,” he said.

Transformer in Ezibeleni township which residents say has been faulty since 2017.

He said poor households are hit hardest by these problems. “Paraffin and gas are too expensive and most families live on social grants,” he said.

“Municipal trucks get stuck in muddy streets and illegal dumpsites are mushrooming because the municipality is not consistent with refuse collections,” Ngxatu said.

Mayor’s response

Mayor Papiyane said he believes that the protest is being funded by business people with “ulterior motives”.

“They support disgruntled ANC members who are not happy with processes. I was inaugurated on 8 December. On Saturday I made sure that people had electricity and that had nothing to do with the arrival of Secretary General Fikile Mbalula,” he said.

Papiyane said the municipality buys R30-million for electricity each month. “We lose R16-million of that through illegal connections. We have discovered that many businesses and communities don’t pay. Some municipal workers are also involved in stealing electricity by helping communities to do so. We currently owe Eskom R890-million and have a monthly wage bill of R24-million,” he said.

The mayor acknowledged that Ezibeleni has had electricity problems “for a long time”. He said a third transformer was purchased to “ease the load” in the community.

“Decaying infrastructure is another challenge for us. But we are fixing the problem. I can assure you that everything will change and electricity will be restored.

“We have already started by getting rid of underground cables in some areas and are introducing overhead cables. The electricity line near the hospital is also being attended to,” he said.

Protesters argue with police.

TOPICS:  Electricity

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