Mthatha families buy their own transformers to electrify their homes

“Children want electricity to do their school assignments”

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Photo of a transformer

Fed-up with waiting for King Sabata Dalindyebo Local Municipality, desperate families in Joe Slovo Extension in Mthatha have bought their own electricity transformers and have connected to the grid themselves. Photos: Mkhuseli Sizani

  • Residents in Joe Slovo Extension, Mthatha, who hoped an electrification project would reach their homes, have bought their own transformers and connected without permission to the grid.
  • The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and the King Sabata Dalindyebo Local Municipality give differing accounts of why there is no money for the project.

Thousands of Mthatha residents in Joe Slovo Extension accuse the King Sabata Dalindyebo Local Municipality (KSD) of incompetence and bungling an electrification project, leaving them in darkness.

The municipality was allocated R7.2 million by the DMRE towards electrifying Joe Slovo Extension. The DMRE says the municipality failed to show it had a contractor and most of the funds were reallocated. The municipality says it spent its own funds and electrified 486 houses as planned.

But Siphiwo Sineke, a community leader, says the municipality promised to electrify nearly over 1,400 households when the project started in January this year, but it suddenly stopped in March after only electrifying a few hundred.

Joe Slovo Extension was informally established in 2007 and now has 4,000 households.

“The unemployment rate is very high here. Many households depend on social grants. Paraffin and gas are too expensive. The bushes to collect wood are also very scarce,” says Sineke.

Residents have resorted to installing their own electricity at their own expense.

“We have been in and out of municipal offices fighting for electricity,” said Bongiwe Mkrazuli. “After many years of empty promises … we decided to contribute R1,000 per household to buy two transformers and connect illegally.”

“About 350 households have izinyoka [informal] connections. But our electricity is weak and our electrical appliances get damaged because the transformers are overcrowded … Children want electricity to do their school assignments. We also need to have fridges,” she said.

“There is no hope that this project will ever resume soon because our municipality is failing us in all departments. Roads are full of potholes and gravel roads are not maintained. We have no water, drains or toilets,” said Mkrazuli.

Makhosonke Plaatjies, regional project manager for DMRE, said, “On 16 October 2020, DMRE issued a letter of intent to re-allocate a portion of KSD allocation. Reasons were that KSD had not provided DMRE with proof of contractor appointment letter as it was supposed to be submitted already by September 2020. In November 2020 it was recommended to National Treasury to reallocate the funds.

“KSD had already signed a contract with DMRE in March 2020. Expectation was that KSD would start procurement so that by September 2020 the contractor is appointed.”

“We then informed the National Treasury that this municipality was not ready and therefore we re-allocated the funds to other municipalities. We only gave them R2.5 million,” he said.

Furthermore, he said, “The municipality never informed us about its decision to use its own funds to finish this project. There was no agreement of reimbursement between us and the municipality. But now they are expecting us to reimburse them.”

Sonwabo Mampoza, municipal spokesperson, said, “We were allocated R7.2 million by the DMRE for Sifubeni and Masimini [in Joe Slovo extension]. We did 260 households at Masimini and 226 at Sifubeni.

“The truth is that the R7.2 million was a commitment, not what was transferred. What was transferred was R2.5 million and the municipality ended up paying from its coffers to meet the contractual obligations to contractors.”

“The project was never stopped as the agreed scope was accomplished. Tractor [another area in Slovo] was planned for 2021/22 financial year but could not be done because there was no allocation from DMRE.”

“R6.5 million was spent in electrifying both Masimini and Sifubeni for a total of 486 households. I hope this clarifies the issue and those who have a different view are free to provide their evidence to the contrary.”

Mampoza condemned the use of illegal connections and said these will only “retard the progress of service delivery”.

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TOPICS:  Electricity Government

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