A battle over electricity is raging in parts of East London, with residents of Leaches Bay facing blackouts as the municipality tries to stop illegal connections in the nearby informal settlement.
Thembisile April and his family have been living in the dark for the last two years after employees of the Buffalo City Municipality arrived in the area and shut off their electricity, accusing them of allowing illegal connections to nearby shacks.
April, who moved into his house in 2004, after living in a shack with no electricity for many years, says his excitement at living in a house with electricity was short-lived because nearby shackdwellers from Ndlovini connected illegal cables to the electrical pole in front of his home and his electricity was shut off by the municipality.
“We have tried on numerous occasions to speak to the informal settlement residents of Ndlovini, but all it leads to is tension and miscommunication,” he says.
Another resident, Anelisiwe Vazi, says the community got electricity in early 2007, but now they go for weeks without when the municipality cuts off the supply.
She says sometimes they don’t have money for paraffin and have to make a fire and cook outside.
“When the electricity goes we have no choice but to wait, no matter how long. It is such a pain, because we know what causes these electrical blackouts, but still nothing has been done. When the councillor says the Ndlovini residents should stop using the illegal connections, they say they also want electricity, and then she just does nothing to fix the problem,” said Vazi.
On 7 July, angry Leaches Bay residents held the councillor Nontsikelelo Peter and her daughter hostage during a protest, saying they would only release them when the electricity was restored in their homes. The electricity was restored the next day. But after a week people were without electricity again.
Siyakudimisa Mancam says residents fear for their safety as sometimes, when Ndlovini residents connect their cables, sparks come out of the electrical box.
“It becomes worse when it rains. We have to walk a distance away from the illegal cables and this is hard at night because even the streetlights stopped working a long time ago.”
Mathokazi Bongiwe, a member of the residents’ committee at Ndlovini, says residents will continue to make their own connections until the municipality brings electricity to the area.
She blames the high crime rate on a lack of electricity.
“It is hard walking at night because it is dark. You can’t see who is in front or behind you. We need electricity. We all want a better life and we won’t stop until the municipality gives us something better,” she says.
Residents say four people have died as a result of illegal connections since 2015. Three died walking on live cables and one died while connecting a cable.
Buffalo City Municipality spokesperson Sibusiso Cindi said the transformers in the area could only serve a certain number of households. He said, although the municipality removed the illegal connections, as soon as the municipal employees left the informal settlements residents went back and connected the cables again.
“The municipality has a plan to electrify shacks in and around Buffalo City Municipality and people need to be patient,” said Cindi.