Riverlea residents guard substation from illegal connections by informal settlement residents
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Johannesburg - Riverlea Extension 2 residents have a new pastime – having community braais next to their substation to guard it against illegal connections from a nearby informal illegal mining settlement.
They are desperate as they have had frequent, day-long power cuts because of the illegal connections which also cause fires in the substation.
The community has also resorted to the dangerous practice of removing the illegal cables themselves as City Power fails to respond.
The problem, they claim, lies with the zama zamas, or illegal miners, who need power for their work.
Many street lights across the area also being illegally connected to.
None of the residents that MetroWatch spoke to would agree to have their names revealed because of ongoing battles between the illegal mining camp settlers and the local community.
Shots and heated arguments have been exchanged, with residents’ homes being threatened of being burned down.
Said Caroline* (not her real name): “It has become a power struggle between the groups. We live in constant fear. Not only do we hear gunshots between the warring zama zamas in Zamimphilo itself, but we also hear constant explosions from the dynamite they use to dig for gold. We never know when our houses will catch fire. The police will not go in as they say the miners are heavily armed.”
Another said the community feels “terrorised”.
“We are so tired of our power being tripped all the time that we now guard the substation ourselves by camping out to assist the guard that City Power has installed. The substation is not properly locked and gets broken into all the time.”
Residents, earlier this month, removed hundreds of metres of cabling which they chopped up, but the miners were back the next day with even thicker cabling, which the residents again removed.
The community says millions of litres of Joburg water are also being used daily for the illegal mining activities, yet nothing is done.
“We do understand that city officials are powerless but government or the owners of the land must step in and close the mining holes,” they said.
City of Joburg proportional representation councillor McKinnley Mitchell said Riverlea residents were left on their own to battle an electrical fire at the mini-substation on Aalwyn Road (Ward 68) last week that was caused by a large number of illegal connections.
“I reported the matter, but there was no effort from City Power to deal with these illegal connections. The fire over the weekend left 50 homes without power, but was caught from spreading in time by residents who removed the illegal connections. However, the next day, these connections were again replaced and caused the substation to short out resulting in power cuts for three days,” he said.
“For several weeks, similar fires have broken out, such as on Riverside Street in Coronationville. These illegal connections cost the city billions in lost revenue, and are a massive safety risk to residents, especially children,” he said.
City Power admits it has a huge problem with illegal connections across the city. Spokesperson Isaac Mangena said these are exacerbated by the increase in demand for housing due to the attractiveness of Joburg as an economic hub.
“We are also aware of the problem the community is facing due to the adjacent informal settlements. We have in the past conducted several operations to cut off illegal connections both in Riverlea and Coronationville.
The latest was done last next to the school because of the danger which it posed to the learners and other children around.
“We have also seen an increase in theft of aerial bundle cable which we often find during the operations to cut off illegal connection in the nearby informal settlements,” he said.
“We want the communities to adopt the infrastructure and protect it against the vandals. In most communities, we already have the CPF and neighbourhood watch patrolling the streets. Partnering with them will assist us in curbing the theft and vandalism, thus arresting the problem,” said Mangena.
Finally, it's illegal for communities to conduct their own operations to cut off illegal connections as alleged by the councillor. This is because of the dangers involved and the fact that only City Power technicians are authorised to work on the network.
“We appeal to the community to be vigilant and report any suspicious activities around the electricity infrastructure around their areas,” said Mangena.
♦ Customers are urged to call City Power Risk Control Numbers 011490 7900 or 011 490 7911 or 011 490 7553 or the police station.