Brace for power cuts

As the city braces for another rumoured round of electricity disconnections this weekend, Msunduzi has roped in “armed” guards to escort electricity contractors during a spate of disconnections last week — mainly to allow them to “break in to properties” to perform disconnections.

Sources told The Witness that contractors embarked on a “special disconnection operation” last Thursday — a public holiday — and Saturday, targeting properties they had tried to disconnect previously, but had found locked.

There are questions regarding the legalities of such an operation.

The Witness understands that the municipality is expected to continue its controversial disconnection drive for the next two weekends — on both Saturday and Sunday.

One source said: “[Contractors] were escorted with armed men so that when [contractors] had to jump over [the] wall or break the locks of gates, the security guards were able to vouch for them.

“Some had to jump over high palisade fences, and some had to force gates open. This is surely highly illegal.”

The source said: “When people were at the homes, they [the security guards] would walk with them. If no one was at home, the guards waited at the gate.”

A Lincoln Meade woman told The Witness that contractors accompanied by armed guards came to disconnect her electricity despite her being on a prepaid system.

“It was very intimidating. Seeing cars speeding up to your gate like that … you think a raid is happening. I am a cancer patient without hair, I wasn’t able to fight back,” she said.

“I have been on a prepaid system since February but I still get a bill from Msunduzi every month, which I don’t pay.”

She said she had to print out pages of correspondence she had with the municipality to explain the misunderstanding so that the contractors would leave her home.

Police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese would not answer questions on the legality of these measures since they were taken at the direction of the City.

Msunduzi did not respond to a detailed query on the matter.

A Pietermaritzburg lawyer, meanwhile, expressed surprise that the City would authorise its contractors to essentially break into properties.

“We have clients waiting for rates clearance certificates and the municipality says it can’t enter properties to check meters when they’re locked. So how are they able to do this?”

Member of Msunduzi’s executive committee, the DA’s Glenn McArthur, said the City was “looking for trouble” by taking such measures.

“It does seem like desperate action by the City to get money in because they must be in a state of bankruptcy,” McArthur said.

The Witness has reported on disconnections by Msunduzi since February, and there have since been suggestions that the City has transgressed its own by-laws during disconnection drives.

Last month, several lawyers roundly agreed that the City’s disconnections were illegal.

City fails to provide statistics

In order to gauge if there has been an upswing in disconnections this year, on July 31 The Witness asked Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha to provide us with figures to show how many homes had been disconnected from January 1 to July 30, last year.

We also asked for figures to show how many homes had been disconnected from January 1 to July 30, this year.

Despite repeated requests, the City has failed to provide these figures.