Khayelitsha residents protest after Metrorail cuts electricity connections

| Siyavuya Khaya
Firefighters and police officers were called out this morning to a protest in Site C over electricity cuts. Photo by Masixole Feni.

Angry residents of Khayelitsha Site C blocked railway tracks and roads, and burned tyres today after their electricity connections were cut by a Metrorail team.

In the early hours of 25 November, residents stoned a bakkie and burned tyres on the railway tracks, forcing commuters to find alternative transport to work. Scores of commuters had to walk from Site C station to Mandalay station to catch a train.

At least five shacks were burned down after residents set a City of Cape Town truck alight. The truck driver escaped but the truck ran downhill and plunged into nearby shacks, engulfing them in flames. Fire engines took almost 30 minutes to arrive on the scene though the fire station is nearby. And when they arrived, they could not quickly put out the fire as they feared for their safety. Metro police had to escort them to douse the fire.

Yesterday a team from the City of Cape Town, Metrorail and Eskom cut electricity cables that were connected to a nearby community.

According to Metrorail general manager Richard Walker the operation was designed to “remove illegal electrical connections between Nolungile and Nonkqubela”

He said some households in X Section had been supplying neighbours in RR Section with electricity and the wiring was dangerous. “These illegal connections are supplied both across and underneath our rail infrastructure, causing havoc with our train service”.

He said members of the Khayelitsha SAPS, Public Order police and the Rapid Rail Response Unit had told residents in advance that the connections would be cut. After the team had moved in yesterday, “retaliation followed as track boxes were set alight and other rail equipment damaged”.

Residents set fire to a truck which crashed into shacks in Site C. Photo by Masixole Feni.

Mzwandile Stemene, who has been living in the area for five years, said residents had not been given notice and their connections had been cut without warning. “Our perishable foods are now damaged and I can’t even cook now because I don’t have electricity. Who is going to pay now for our damaged food?” he said.

Stemene said the area had been settled for more than a decade but residents did not have electricity and when they tried to find ways to get electricity they were blocked.

He said the households in the area were paying R350 a month to the people who had offered them an electricity connection but they were being treated as if they were stealing this electricity.

Another resident, Lwazi Busakwe, said residents would continue with the protest until their pleas were heard. He said it was an uphill battle for the people of Khayelitsha to get service delivery, but in the suburbs it was easy.

Busakwe said the ward councillor had neglected the area. “We don’t want him here. We know he is going to come here because next year there is going to be in an election. If he comes here we are going to beat him straight away,” he said.

Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott said some trains had been running again early this morning after the disruption to the service yesterday

“However, at 6am the community gathered at Mew Way bridge and placed obstructions on the railway tracks, forcing us once again to withdraw service until the situation improves sufficiently to allow the safe operation of trains. SAPS and ourselves continue to monitor the situation as we are anxious to assist stranded commuters as soon as possible – but not at the risk of lives or assets,” she said.

In a statement today, Public Transport Voice, a Khayelitsha based activist organisation campaigning for better public transport, condemned violence against Metrorail but also took the rail company to task for not providing buses for commuters when the service was disrupted. “In other areas when there are similar problems and termination of trains occurs, buses are issued. Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town were provided with buses when there was sand on the rail line.”

Public Transport Voice condemned “in the strongest terms possible” the disruption of the service and called on police to arrest “those who lead these protests”. “We will be opposing bail and asking for a very harsh sentence to act as a deterrent to any other criminal with this action in mind.”

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