Blitz against hot-wiring sparks violent demo
12 Jul 2012
Thamsanqa Magubane and Chris Ndaliso
PARTS of Northdale turned into a war zone last night as residents of the Nhlalakahle informal settlement retaliated against the disconnection of their illegal electricity earlier in the day.
They barricaded Bombay Road with burning tyres and stoned passing vehicles.
By 7pm last night, the intersection between Bombay Road and Balhambra Way was in flames.
Protesters moved through the dark as plumes of smoke from the burning tyres created a barrier between them and the police and fire-fighters on either side of the road.
At the time of going to press the situation remained unchanged, with police unable to enter the settlement to try to contain the situation.
Angry protesters threw rocks and bottles at passing cars and whoever dared to come near the burning tyres.
Cars driving down Balhambra Way to join Bombay Road had to make a mad dash past the stone-throwing protesters.
One motorist had his back window shattered.
He parked on the side of the road to make an inspection of the damage.
“I don’t know what I have done to these people. It’s going to be a battle for me to sign affidavits and filing for insurance claim to fix this mess.
“You could swear that what they are fighting for is legitimate, but they are in the wrong,” said the motorist, who asked not to be named.
Fire-fighters and police officers stood at a cautious distance lest the protesters stoned them.
A senior fireman, who identified himself as J.S. Marais, remarked that if the protesters could shoot, no one would know who had fired the shots.
Marais had barely spoken when a brick from the other side of the settlement landed between the bystanders and the police, sending everyone scurrying back.
“I can’t send my guys there … For us to get the fire out, it must be safe there,” he said pointing to the blocked road.
The drama started after officials from the Msunduzi Municipality’s disconnection unit, accompanied by police, raided Nhlalakahle to remove all illegal electricity connections.
Members of the team, who declined to be named as they are not allowed to speak to the media, said they collected about a ton of wires.
“There must have been 150 houses in this area,” said a municipal worker. “We had to go house by house to remove all these illegal connections.”
The residents began protesting at about 5pm yesterday.
The worker added: “They first burnt the tyres from the top of the settlement and then rolled them down to the road.
“One of the tyres almost burned one of their houses.”
A municipal team member said the residents in the settlement had been stealing electricity for the past two years.
“They steal electricity from the street lights and this leads to overheating of transformers and power outages,” he said.
Ward councillor Rooksana Ahmed said attempts were being made to resolve the situation.
Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma could not be reached for comment.
Police said they would only be able to comment today.
‘We’ll cut down lights …’
13 Jul 2012
A RESIDENT of the Nhlalakahle informal settlement in Northdale, who was in the midst of Wednesday evening’s violent demonstration, warned yesterday that the community would cause more chaos unless it was given electricity.
“We still have plenty of tyres. There are tyres everywhere. We will cut down all of these street lights,” said Sibusiso Sibiya (23), warning of more violent protests.
“We want electricity and water. That is all that we want. We are not fighting with anyone,” said Sibiya.
Sibiya, who said he was part of the crowd that burnt tyres and stoned police vehicles, admitted he was one of the residents who were responsible for the illegal connections.
The protest erupted after Msunduzi Municipality sent in a team to disconnect hot-wired cables in the settlement.
“They [the municipality] don’t want to give us electricity, so we will get it ourselves. We voted for them, but they don’t want to help us. If they can give us water and electricity, we won’t fight with them,” he said.
During Wednesday’s protest, teargas canisters were fired into the informal settlement as residents created a barrier with burning tyres to keep police and fire-fighters on the other side of Bombay Road.
Sibiya complained about the teargas, saying that young children, who were not involved, had been affected.
“They didn’t think about them. There are sick children here now who are coughing because of the teargas.
“We are discriminated against because we live in squatter camps and because we are poor,” he said.
“We did nothing wrong. All we did was steal electricity.”
Whenever there were power cuts, he warned, the residents would connect their homes to powerlines.
A resident in Bombay Road across the informal settlement told The Witness anonymously: “We live in fear. Nobody could come out of their house because they were all afraid of what was going on. The neighbours even had their car [which was parked outside] vandalised.”
The riots started after the municipality had gone to the area to remove illegal cables and connections.
A spokesperson for the municipality, Nqobile Madonda, said a municipal team was sent in because “paying customers’ electricity supply in the surrounding area was being continuously compromised by illegal connections”.
She said the connections were overloading the electricity network and destabilising the supply, which resulted in the municipality losing about R30 000 a month.
Police have yet to make an arrest after the violent protest.
Police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane warned that “the police will use all available resources to deal with unruly behaviour by members of the public”.
Zwane said Wednesday night’s protesters were “playing a cat-and-mouse game with the police in that they quickly disappeared between the bushes and the mountain terrain”.
“To pursue the protesters under these circumstances would have been suicidal for the police and would have unnecessarily endangered the lives of innocent bystanders,” said Zwane.
It was therefore difficult to identify perpetrators, he said.
When The Witness visited the scene yesterday, there were no police in sight.
Jika Joe: War on power theft goes on
14 Jul 2012
THE Msunduzi Municipality removed more illegal electricity connections yesterday, this time in the Jika Joe informal settlement.
This follows Wednesday’s removal of illegal connections in the Nhlalakahle informal settlement that led to a violent protest when angry residents burnt tyres and stoned passing cars at the intersection of Bombay Road and Balhambra Way.
Dramatic scenes ensued yesterday as municipal workers accompanied by heavily armed guards pulled out cables — some of them buried underground — around shacks in Jika Joe.
Municipality spokesperson Nqobile Madondo said there would be ongoing raids to remove illegal connections so that paying customers’ services were not interrupted.
Residents of Jika Joe complained that they would not be able to keep themselves warm.
“We will not be able to put on heaters,” said Mbonga Mbhele (33) who was speaking on behalf of his neighbours.
Jika Joe residents also raised the problem of having only one tap to serve scores of households, and said toilets were in a bad condition.
Their complaints were similar to those voiced by residents in Nhlalakahle.
On Thursday large parts of neighbouring Northdale were left in darkness after several power poles were toppled. Outraged residents in Northdale want the municipality to act against the people who hook up electricity cables illegally in Nhlalakahle.
“The residents here have been patient, and they understand the plight of those living in the informal settlement,” said Pastor Adiel Chetty of the Entabeni Community Church.
“People will be protesting to have Nhlalakahle removed. It is the only way forward,” said Chetty.
“As residents, we don’t know how to approach this issue. This is an issue between Nhlalakahle and municipality. We are caught in the middle of that war,” he said.
Madondo said illegal connections were “very costly” for the municipality to tackle.
“They compromise on the infrastructure that we have and are very unfair to legal paying citizens as they disrupt their services as well,” she said yesterday. “We will continue to disconnect all illegal electrical connections within Msunduzi Municipality.”
The SA Police Service and municipal security are always on hand to assist in case of unrest,” she said.
Police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane said police were still patrolling the areas that were affected by the protests.
“Crime Intelligence members are busy trying to identify the perpetrators. A case of public violence was opened for further investigation. We appeal to the members of the community to assist in identifying these perpetrators,” said Zwane.