Category Archives: The Daily News

Daily News: Shack dwellers take city to court

Shack dwellers take city to court

September 18 2012
By Rizwana Sheik Umar

Residents of a KwaMashu informal settlement and the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo have taken the eThekwini Municipality to court for failing to comply with a court order to provide homes for residents evicted from the area.

In 2009, residents of the Siyanda settlement near KwaMashu were evicted from their shacks by the Department of Transport and relocated to transit camps to make way for the construction of Dumisani Makhaye Drive. Continue reading

Daily News: ‘I could not watch a baby die’

‘I could not watch a baby die’

Nondumiso Mbuyazi

The piercing cries of a six-month-old baby propelled a young woman into a raging fire at an Overport shack settlement on Monday in a heroic rescue.

When the commotion had died down after the fire was contained and baby Natasha was safely in the arms of her babysitter, the egg yolk poultice on Cocela Mlobeli’s face told the community of how the 21-year-old woman had saved the toddler.

The egg yolk, said Mlobeli, was to conceal the burn marks and to help them heal faster.

Earlier, a man who had tried to enter the shack to save the crying girl was burnt on his arm by the inferno.

The close-knit community in the informal settlement of Jadhu, Overport, erupted into chaos after a fire broke out on Monday gutting, at least 100 shacks and leaving 200 people homeless. The fire, said residents, had started at about 9am.

Brenda Nodade, 25, said she suspected one of the residents had left a paraffin stove on.

Two women at an informal settlement in Jadhu, Overport, risk their lives in a desperate attempt to salvage their belongings as a fire burns its way through the settlement. At least 100 shacks were destroyed and 200 people left homeless by the blaze. Picture: Dawn Rouse

“It smelled like someone was cooking and then there was this big bang. I went out to see what was happening and by that time the shack had already caught on fire, and it was spreading to other shacks,” she said.

Despite residents’ attempts to put out the blaze it soon spread to other shacks.

“The wind was just too strong and we didn’t have much water,” said Nomusa Khawunda, who was babysitting four toddlers, including Natasha.

The babies, she said, were all lying on the bed and she had managed to grab three, leaving Natasha behind.

When she went back to fetch her, the fire had spread to her shack. A neighbour, John Magwaza, tried to run into the shack, but he got burnt on his arm.

He tried to smash open the window, but it had burglar guards. That is when Mlobeli, a second year HR student at Berea Technikon, ran into the shack.

“She was just crying and I thought to myself I can’t just stand here and watch this child die,” Mlobeli said. “That is when I went inside.”

As she grabbed Natasha, covering her with her jacket, Mlobeli said she struggled to breathe as she inhaled the hot smoke.

“I said to myself I would rather die than to allow this innocent child to die like this,” she said, the pain from the burn palpable.

“I only realised later that one side of my face was in pain.”

Natasha’s mother had not returned from work when a Daily News team visited on Monday.

Municipal spokesman, Mandla Nsele, said that a fireman sustained a minor injury while putting out the fire and was admitted to hospital.

He said the municipality, through its Disaster Management Department, had provided 100 blankets and 100 food parcels, as short-term relief.

Area councillor, Bhekisani Ngcobo had identified two temporary shelters where those who had lost their homes had been moved.

The city was still working on organising additional relief, like building material, from NGOs and business.

The extent of the damage, said Nsele, was still being assessed.

Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC, Nomusa Dube, said the department was working with the municipality to provide aid.

“We are saddened to learn of the fire… we urge our people to learn from this incident and take our warning about habits that lead to fires seriously,” Dube said.

Daily News: Why Eskom will never beat the reconnectors

This article was also published in The Star as ‘Private Profits from Public Utility’ on 3 February.

Why Eskom will never beat the reconnectors

February 01, 2010 Edition 1

Richard Pithouse

The fiasco at Eskom has been oscillating between tragedy and farce at such a rate that it’s become difficult to tell them apart.

No one in their right mind is likely to disagree that Eskom, an institution that should serve the public good, has been captured by an avaricious elite and turned into a vampiric excrescence on our society.

In the wake of Jacob Maroga’s incredible demand for an R85 million golden handshake even Parliament has felt the need to pressurise the cabinet to end the ‘looting’ at parastatals.

But whatever steps are taken to address the fiasco, it seems clear enough that much of the price for the extravagant folly at Megawatt Park will be paid by ordinary people. And ordinary people will, of course, have no say in how the deal goes down.

The National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) public hearings into tariff increases were, as mandated public participation exercises usually are in South Africa, entirely closed to any meaningful public engagement.

At the Midrand hearings representatives from Earthlife and the Anti-Privatisation Forum were locked out of the venue by security guards, and then assaulted and arrested.

The charges of public violence were dropped the next day in what has become a standard practice across the country in which the state misuses the power of arrest as an instant punishment for citizens taking democracy seriously.

Already there are many people who have a legal electricity connection, but have to get up at four in the morning to chop wood to heat water and cook food because they just can’t afford to pay for electricity – along with school fees, transport, medical costs and all the rest.

Under these conditions unlawful reconnections are a popular strategy to sustain access to electricity.

The practice is ubiquitous, but the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC) first organised it and gave it a public political expression.

Shack dwellers, many of whom have not been connected to the grid by the state, also appropriate electricity. This is not at all unique to South Africa. On the contrary, it is one of the universal features of shack life linking up Lagos, Istanbul, Bombay, Rio and Joburg as nodes in a decidedly international mode of urban life.

Neither Eskom’s izinyoka campaign, that tried to present the people who install self-organised electricity connections as snakes, nor the often violent raids of police and the private security companies contracted to municipalities, have had any success in teaching people to accept that they do not deserve to have electricity.

The police raids often extend beyond ripping out self-organised electricity connections, and it’s not unusual for them to include the confiscation of all electrical appliances, with DVD players seeming to be most at risk, on the grounds that they must be stolen.

But, as the police disconnect, people reconnect, and as the police steal people’s equipment, they replace it. In some cases the police go through periods of disconnecting daily, and so people disconnect themselves every morning and reconnect themselves every evening.


When middle class residents inform on their poor neighbours it has become common for shack dwellers to respond to police raids by disconnecting their middle class neighbours en masse – usually at supper time.

Sometimes an explanatory note is left at the electricity box. Once this has been done three or four times, an understanding is usually reached to live and let live.

The reality is that the attempt to stop unlawful connections has about as much chance of success as influx control had in the 1980s, or, for that matter, as attempts to stop middle class people sharing music and software.

In some cases self-organised connections are arranged in a haphazard and individualised way, and while some people are careful to use and to bury properly insulated wire, others are not.

There are real risks when open wires are left dangling in dense settlements and people have been killed. But people are also killed in shack fires, and when connections are arranged in a carefully organised and safe way by a well organised community organisation or social movement, they can be done very safely and keep whole communities safe from fire.

Following the pioneering struggle of the SECC, popular organisations and movements around the country refer to the work of organising the appropriation of electricity collectively, safely and without profit as “Operation Khanyisa”.

It is not unusual for the media to respond to self-organised electricity connections with a sometimes racialised hostility and paranoia bordering on hysteria.

Following propagandistic statements from the police and politicians, cable theft and self-organised electricity connections are routinely conflated, even though it is quite obvious that these are two entirely different practices organised by different people for different purposes.

Deaths from shack fires are routinely ascribed to drunkenness rather than an absence of electricity, but when connections are made recklessly, this is seized upon to de-legitimise all self-organised connections – including those undertaken with exemplary care.

It is regularly asserted, as if it were a fact, that all self-organised connections are made for payment. And, predictably, when Eskom’s executive looting, poor planning and massive subsidies to smelters leads to load-shedding, some newspapers are quick to blame “theft” by the poor for the crisis.

A life without electricity is one in which shack fires are a constant threat, cellphones can’t be charged and basic daily tasks become time consuming, repetitive and dangerous. It also leaves people feeling structurally excluded from access to a modern life.


There is no doubt that a critical mass of people are not willing to accept that they should be consigned to systemic exclusion and that they see the activity of appropriating electricity as a fundamentally necessary, decent and social activity.

The social definition of theft is something that changes over time, and that is understood differently from different perspectives.

In the words of a famous old English poem,
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.

Who is really at fault when the boss of a public utility has entirely fatuous personal expenses that run into the millions and some of the “snakes” who have connected themselves up to the wires that carry the means to heat and light past them have nothing more than a couple of slices of white bread and a cup of sweet tea to cook up for supper?

In its original sense privatisation was about the process of social exclusion via private appropriation rather than the question of whether or not an institution was owned by the state or private power.

In contemporary South Africa, state ownership of key organisations is producing a degree of social exclusion and private enrichment every bit as perverse as that produced by private ownership. It makes perfect sense to hold Eskom and MTN in the same contempt.

As exclusion deepens in the wake of the Eskom crisis, people will respond with increasing popular appropriation.

For as long as Eskom continues to see public utilities as an opportunity for private profit, and electricity as a commodity for private consumption rather than a common good, civil society should invoke the tradition of civil disobedience and support communities and popular movements to resist state repression while they organise to appropriate electricity on a non- commodified, safe and carefully disciplined basis.

Daily News: Thefts hit ratepayers Power cheats behind city’s 30% hikes

Abahlali baseMjondolo’s Operation Khanyisa has always been non-commodified and conducted in a very safe and careful way. There have been no accidents. But media coverage of self organised connections, including those undertaken via, Operation Khanyisa has generally been entirely propogandistic (and often straightforwadly dishonest) and driven by attempts by politicians, officials and police officers to generate a social panic around the popular appropriation of electricity rather than any serious engagement with the issues.

Thefts hit ratepayers
Power cheats behind city’s 30% hikes

February 01, 2010 Edition 3


ELECTRICITY theft and illegal connections cost the eThekwini Municipality more than a R135 million a year – losses for which ratepayers will have to fork out.

With authorities already planning electricity increases of at least 30 percent in each of the next three years, irrespective of the stiff tariffs Eskom is presently applying for, the picture is not rosy for ratepayers.

In the 2008/9 financial year more than R135m was lost to power theft and theft of copper wiring and transformers.

Power theft has resulted in losses of more than R100m annually to the municipality annually over the past five years and everything points towards a similar loss for the 2009/2010 financial year.

At the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) hearings in Durban last month, Cosatu’s Zet Luzipo and the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers warned that Eskom’s proposed tariff hike would lead to more illegal connections because electricity users could not afford the cost of power.

“This tariff hike will have far-reaching implications. One of them will be the escalation of energy theft,” said Du Toit Grobler, the institute’s president.

Luzipo, Cosatu’s secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, said the electricity hike would force people to resort to illegal connections and the use of dangerous forms of energy.

These included burning coal indoors and paraffin stoves.

Deena Govender, senior manager of commercial engineering and marketing in the municipality’s electricity department, said losses of R55m were incurred because of illegal electricity connections between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009.

A further R80m was lost as a result of the theft of copper wiring, transformers and other cables from power installations, particularly electrical substations in and around Durban.

Eskom, which provides 95 percent of the country’s power, has to foot a R385 billion bill to build more power stations to cope with rising demand.

During countrywide public hearings, held by Nersa over 10 days and ending recently, companies, academics, human rights and wildlife groups, political figures and organised labour took the final opportunity to convince the Nersa panel not to support Eskom’s plan to turn to consumers to fund three annual increases of 35 percent each, starting this year.

Nersa is expected to rule on the power utility’s application on February 24.

Whatever Nersa decides is appropriate for Eskom, eThekwini ratepayers will face the parastatal’s tariff hike followed by the municipal increase.

Govender said the city recovered income lost as a result of power theft by increasing the electricity tariff for paying customers throughout the Durban area.

“For the past five years, electricity that has been stolen has varied between 2 percent and 3 percent (of turnover),” he said.

Thami Bolani, chairman of the National Consumer Forum, said it was unfair for paying customers to be charged for illegal connections.

“The municipality should not choose making a profit over the financial constraints of people.”

At Clare Estate’s Kennedy Road informal settlement, power “landlords” have been hooking their own power lines to electricity poles in the evenings and tapping into the grid, before taking them down at dawn.

“The electricity landlords are the ones that make the illegal connections on the poles and they make sure that they disconnect the electricity by taking the wires off the pole every morning,” said a resident.

“Two wires are used and those wires are then connected to another two wires buried underneath the ground which lead into a house. From there, it is then distributed through many wires that lead to other houses,” he said.

The man said he was aware of more than a dozen electricity landlords, each of whom distributed electricity illegally to between 10 and 20 residents for a monthly fee of R120 to R150.

Last year, four people – two children and two adults – died after they were electrocuted at the Kennedy Road settlement, but electricity thieves are widely at work, from Isipingo to Hammarsdale.

Nathi Nkwanyana, senior manager for revenue protection at the electricity department, said: “We are appealing to informal settlement residents to refrain from hiring bogus contractors to connect electricity illegally to their homes.”

Daily News: Bail delayed for sixth time

Bail delayed for sixth time
Prayer meeting in support of detained Kennedy Road 13

November 19, 2009 Edition 2


THERE is still no decision on whether bail will be granted to the 13 people accused of the murder of two people living in the Kennedy Road informal settlement.

Yesterday magistrate B Mbulawa of the Durban Regional Court adjourned the matter to next week for an identity parade to be held, and to give judgment.

She has been expected to give judgment on five previous occasions. However, each time Mbulawa has said she has not been in a position to do so since she did not have sufficient evidence on which to base her decision.

Before the court proceedings, the Diakonia Council of Churches held a prayer meeting outside court, led by Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip, in support of the accused.

Defence advocate Terence Seery said it was not fair on the accused because they had been remanded since September. The bail application, he said, was urgent.

“The court has had enough time to investigate the matter. The investigation must be a fair process and in this case, it has not been so,” he said.

Mbulawa said an ID parade was necessary because not all the accused were facing the same charges, and this would help clarify what charge each accused faced.

“I asked for the ID parade to be conducted to know which accused did what,” Mbulawa said. She said the matter was still under investigation and the ID parade would be a part of the process. “This is a highly sensitive matter,” she said.

According to the state, ethnic issues had contributed and some accused belonged to a safety forum.

However, Seery objected to the way the ID parade was going to be conducted.

He questioned why the suspects could not be granted bail before these were held, and emphasised that they should be done in a procedurally correct manner. These should be done in a facility equipped with one-way glass.

Prosecutor Blackie Swart said the police should be given a further opportunity to hold the ID parade because it was impossible for the court to make a decision.

“The ID parade would help to identify specific suspects accused in the case. From there it would be clear how the bail application would be granted,” he said.

The suspects would remain in custody at the Sydenham Police Station.