Eskom issues power alert

THE electricity supply will be under strain from today as offices and factories reopen after the festive season, an Eskom spokesman said.

Andrew Etzinger said a considerable amount of short-term maintenance was done on coal power stations over the festive season, when many businesses traditionally closed for two weeks or more.

However, despite load shedding being halted over this period, some major centres like Johannesburg and Durban as well as holiday towns were plagued by power outages.

Holidaymakers and residents in Durban were without electricity for up to four days from Christmas Day, just as a heat wave hit the city.

Many people went without a cooked Christmas lunch and chicken farmers north of Durban lost hundreds of thousands of rands as poultry died from the heat.

The dysfunctional city call centre and days-long outages caused by technical problems led to an apology to residents by Durban mayor James Nxumalo.

Holiday destinations Jeffreys Bay and St Francis Bay experienced three to four days without electricity between Christmas and New Year.

The problem started when an electricity pylon caught alight.

The fire and resultant power problems were caused by a lack of maintenance by the municipality to electricity infrastructure, National Council of Provinces DA member for the Eastern Cape Elza van Lingen said. A lack of power also led to sewage plants overflowing onto the beach in Jeffreys Bay as pumps did not work.

Residents' Association chairman Garth Ford said sewage remained in suburban streets at the weekend as there was a shortage of trucks to clear septic tanks during the high season. The sewage problems had been exacerbated by power failure-related spillages.

There were also water shortages and petrol shortages. Food wastage and shop and restaurant closures led to "a good few million rand lost to the local economy" during the busiest part of the year, tourism director Brenton Williams said.

Many tourists left Jeffreys Bay early due to the power cuts and sewage problems. In Johannesburg, heavier rain than usual caused flooding of small stations and disruptions to the power supply, City Power spokesman Louis Pieterse said.

"We had a lot of rain. One of the worst enemies of electricity is water."

Bryanston was hit with a power failure at the weekend as residents of the upmarket suburb returned from holiday trips.

On December 28, Victory Park and Craighall Park had no power.

Linksfield and Orange Grove suffered blackouts the next day and Eldorado Park was without power for two days from Tuesday.

Wynberg, Alexandra and Northriding had no power for the last day of the year.

Pieterse said none of the outages were due to load shedding. "At any time, at least 30% of all outages are caused by cable theft," he said.

A new transformer that cost Buffalo City Metro (BCM) R40000 to replace in Scenery Park Phase Two was torched on New Year's Day. BCM spokesman Thandy Matebese said the mini substation was installed on December 23 after residents had gone three weeks without electricity.

"Hardly seven days after we installed the substation, it was burnt," leaving more than 600 people without power, Matebese said.

Pieterse urged people to turn off power and light switches during an outage. When the power returned, the initial demand often caused an overload trip, meaning the power stayed off for longer. - Additional reporting by Zwanga Mukhuthu

 - Katharine Child