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A struggle for power

An estimated 1 200 people took to the streets of Villiersdorp last week, setting alight electricity boxes, damaging property and causing havoc, after Theewaterskloof Municipality had disconnected the power supply to several households.

Theewaterskloof Executive Mayor Christelle Vosloo says a decision was taken to remove illegal electricity connections as it poses a grave danger to residents.

“Earlier this year a young girl of Grabouw died after coming into contact with such a connection. This prompted Eskom and the municipality to implement a programme to remove all illegal connections,” she stated.

She added the programme in Villiersdorp last Tuesday commenced after local councillors and the ward committees agreed to it. “The broader public was also duly informed and given the opportunity to remove the illegal connections themselves.”

Despite this, violent protests broke out on Wednesday, in which streets were blocked, a number of electricity boxes set alight and private as well as municipal property damaged.

Simon McKenzie of the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) said a special “mitigation meeting” with municipal officials was set up beforehand in an attempt to prevent the protest action.

“There wasn’t effective communication about the issue,” he said. “We believe ward councillors do not relay the messages effectively, and the municipality should find alternative ways to communicate with the community.

“We called a meeting with officials before the disconnections were done, but they indicated the process would go ahead. The people decided to protest after we had relayed this message.”

McKenzie expressed regret over the damage that was caused. “We tried to prevent this by having the mitigation meeting with officials beforehand.”

Peace was restored after Sanco representatives met with municipal officials on Wednesday. At this meeting, the mayor related, it became clear that certain legal connections were disconnected. “The municipality undertook to restore those connections,” she said.

“The municipality temporarily stopped the disconnection programme until after further discussions with Sanco. It was made clear to Sanco the disconnection of illegal electricity connections would continue.

“The municipality explained it will not allow lawlessness, and charges would be laid with the police. Those who are responsible for the damage must be brought to book.

“The municipality reiterates that the safety of our people and the prevention of further trauma are the only reasons for the removing of illegal connections and that the programme will continue.”

McKenzie said the municipality should take cognisance of the fact that there is a dire need for legal electricity supply to informal structures.

“The number of illegal connections is an indication of this,” he said. “The problem of illegal connections will be solved if the municipality provides electricity to the informal settlements.”

Colonel Chrisna Auret, Villiersdorp Police Station Commander, confirmed a case of public violence as well as a case of intimidation are being investigated.

“The library and housing office’s windows as well as windows at Badisa’s office and 84 windows of the church hall were broken,” she reported. “The church hall’s door was also broken down. Windows of De Villiers Graaf High School’s dormitory were also smashed and a number of electricity boxes were set alight. Damage to a number of private homes and vehicles was also reported.”

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