Battle over illegal power connections

City of Cape Town officials had a tough time cutting the electricity spiderweb in the informal settlement of Vosho.

Residents of Vosho informal settlement and Helen Joseph, a formal housing area, both located in Samora Machel, are angry at each other about illegal electricity connections in that area.

Residents of Helen Joseph said many illegal power connections were made from their houses in the dark and children were exposed to the live wires.

The two areas are now at each other’s throats.

The atmosphere was tense in the area last Friday when the Helen Joseph residents called the police and the City of Cape Town’s electricity department to cut off the web of illegal connections on top of their roofs.

The situation was so bad that the groups hurled unprintable insults at each other.

Before police came, one could cut the tension between them with a knife. Residents from the Vosho informal settlement stood two metres away from Helen Joseph residents, some armed with crowbars, knobkieries and stones.

When the police arrived, stones and other objects were hurled to the other side of the houses. Police had to quell the crisis by firing warning shots in the air.

Talking to Vukani, the Helen Joseph residents said they were not happy and that some of the neighbours do not talk to each other as they have different views concerning the illegal electricity connections.

One resident who is against illegal connections, and who did not want to be named, said: “This is a big problem, because there are days when we sleep without electricity in our houses because of this nonsense. Our appliances like refrigerators and television sets are affected and we can’t afford to fix them after that.

“It is also a problem for children including others who play in the streets in the day. They are exposed to these dangerous wires. We have not had a case where one is electrocuted but we cannot wait for that to happen for us to condemn this,” he said.

It is said that some of the residents in the informal settlements rent out the electricity to other shack dwellers for no less than R400 a month. They reportedly connect electricity from the poles and extend it to other shacks in their area. “The reason they are so angry is because they sell electricity to their neighbours. They have become ‘business’ people. That would be fine if they use their own, legal electricity but now this is costing us,” said another Helen Joseph resident.

One resident, who has an illegal connection, appealed to the formal housing residents to bear with them until they get electricity in their area.

She said many will be left with no electricity. “How are we going to light our lights let alone cook? It is a pity that we had to come to this. But these people are unfair too. Surely they have been in our situation.

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“We have no choice but to illegally connect because the City has not provided us with meter boxes,” she said.

Asked about people selling electricity to others, she said she has also heard that. “There are rumours but I cannot confirm nor deny that. Some people will do anything for a living. Not that I am condoning it, but we must bear in mind that people are unemployed and will do anything to put food on the table,” she said.

Some residents also blame the local councillor, Sithembiso Mzobe, because they said he has been aware of the problem for a while. Phumezo Sikota said they have tried to speak to him to do something but he has done nothing. “Our councillor is failing us. This would have long been solved had he listened to his people. Simple things like cleaning the streets, he does not care. He is a failure to many. He needs to organise electricity for those people because that is his constituency too,” he said.

Mr Mzobe also condemned people illegally connecting to electricity power networks. He said although some of the residents have “agreements” with formal homeowners to connect electricity from their houses, that is also a danger. “When some of the informal settlement residents could not get electricity, they decided to connect straight to the boxes and poles. That is causing a problem because people’s electricity trips and people are left without electricity. Bear in mind winter is approaching, how will formal houses live without electricity? That is not right,” he said.

Asked about any plans to electrify the informal settlement, he said this will not happen, not even getting basic services as they are located on land owned by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA). “It would have been better if the land belonged to the national government or the City,” he said.

The cables crossing from the Helen Joseph RDP houses to Vosho were eventually cut under a heavy police presence, with residents still hurling objects at police and the municipality’s workers..