High cost in lives, injuries as fed-up residents turn to illegal connections despite knowing the dangers
As the city’s bean counters tally the cost of electricity losses, running into hundreds of millions of rands every year, some Nelson Mandela Bay families are battling to come to terms with the ultimate price of power theft – death.
Impatient and poor, residents from Missionvale, Vastrap and Walmer township have taken matters into their own hands by illegally connecting power cables to their homes.
This is their only means of accessing electricity.
They do not have money for paraffin and no longer want to wait for the city to get through its copious housing list before it is their turn for RDP houses.
Between July last year and June, the municipality lost R291-million from theft and “technical losses”.
In the first month of the current financial year – July – it lost R48.7-million, of which more than R30-million was as a result of illegal connections and meter tampering.
These illegal connections have claimed several lives over the past two years and left many homeless.
Fezeka Mayekiso, 50, from Missionvale’s Rolihlahla informal settlement, said: “We don’t have electricians here. We are all electricians. If there is something wrong with my electricity, I fix it myself.
“Not everyone is lucky, because some are electrocuted.”
Mayekiso said they could not sit and wait for electricity as connection could take many years “if not forever”.
The three-year-old daughter of Wendy Mthathi, 42, also from Rolihlahla, was electrocuted last year.
“As you can see, the wires are not high enough. Aliwanga tried to swing from one of the wires and that was the end of her, ”Mthathi said.
“As much as we understand the dangers . . . electricity is a basic need these days. We also cannot afford to buy paraffin on a daily basis. We have seen a number of people dying, especially last year, but . . . we need electricity.”
Little Ubenathi Manci, 5, from the same area, lived to tell her tale.
She was shocked last year, injuring her hand and prompting her mother, Nomaxabiso, to disconnect all the power in her shack.
She now cooks on a primus stove and uses paraffin lamps.
However, she is surrounded by a web of illegally connected electrical cables,with some scattered on the ground.
“I remember the day when my child was electrocuted as if it were yesterday,” Manci said.
“The week before, someone had died from these illegal connections, but God spared me my daughter’s life. “It is very difficult to survive without electricity, everything uses it.”
In the Vastrap area, near Booysen Park, electrical cables are strewn along the road.
This year, illegal power connections have claimed the lives of two boys, aged 9 and 10, in Vastrap.
The family of one of the boys has relocated while the mother of the second boy moved to the Transkei region.
“The younger boy came here for the July holidays and unfortunately he was electrocuted,” a 45-year-old Vastrap woman, who did not want to give her name as she is connecting wires illegally, said.
“Our kids know on rainy days they should avoid playing outside because the electrical wires are everywhere. “Though this is not a permanent solution, for now it makes our lives easier.”
In Airport Valley in Walmer township, residents said one person had died after he was electrocuted.
In Walmer, the connections were from the main substation, while in Rolihlahla wires were connected to street poles.
The municipality has strategies to cut down on electricity theft, but acknowledges it needs to do more.
Its new political head of electricity, councillor Annette Lovemore, said they were committed to maximising spending to ensure safe and stable electricity supply for all.
“The issue of electricity losses, caused specifically by tampering and theft – including illegal connections – requires political will to address. We have that political will,” Lovemore said.
Electricity acting executive director Peter Neilson said the municipality would use the R150-million promised by Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to implement its strategy to cut connections through aerial photography and drone technology.
It is also leaning on Amat Security and Cleaning Services, the company hired to cut electricity theft, to save money.
The metro has in the past argued it was not seeing the savings of Amat’s work.
Neilson said preliminary findings indicated a 1% improvement in the second phase of Amat’s contract.
This still had to be verified by Fort Hare University.
“Amat is not making the progress that was expected and to date the amount of savings as per Fort Hare is [about] R35-million. It will need to drastically increase performance once new results are released,” Neilson said.