NEWS | JOHANNESBURG 

Small Jo’burg businesses left in the dark

City blames cable theft and previous administration

Photo of a street at night
Entire strips of small businesses such as these along Commissioner Street in Troyeville, are forced to close during blackouts which often affect large swathes of Johannesburg for 24 hours or more. The City reports over 100 such incidents per month, with 45% of them being due to cable theft, and the remainder due to ageing infrastructure. Photo: Steve Kretzmann/WCN
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Cable theft and ageing infrastructure have intermittently left homes, schools and businesses across Johannesburg in the dark. Suburbs on the east, south and northwest of the city have been hit with power outages lasting as long as 36 hours over the last week.

Witpoortjie in Roodeport was badly affected as temperatures plummeted over the weekend, leaving thousands of residents in the cold.

Many of the affected areas are low-income suburbs where small businesses are without the means to install backup generators. They are forced to close while the electricity is off, a situation which cuts into already thin margins of profitability.

The owner of Top Chilla’s bar and restaurant in Witpoortjie, who agreed to only give a first name, Linda, said they were forced to close on Sunday and Monday last week due to a 36-hour outage.

Linda said that about R2,000 worth of meat went to waste during the closure as the fridges defrosted, and being closed for two nights led to a loss of thousands of rand.

A restaurant owner on Commissioner Street, who introduced himself as Sadu, said that the electricity cuts off “two or three times a month”.

“Usually it’s for about six hours,” he said.

Amid the ongoing outages, Sadu’s restaurant has been using gas to cook meals, but a lack of music and decent lighting kept customers away.

City Power spokesperson Virgil James said that many other food businesses faced similar losses during the more than 100 outages that occur around the city every month. James said 45% were due to cable theft.

James said power was cut in Kensington, Observatory, Bruma, Bramley and Bez Valley at 10.35pm on Wednesday 10 May due to attempted cable theft. Electricity was restored to these areas around 7pm the next day, some 20 hours later.

“Attempted cable theft caused the cable and transformer to blow. Such damage usually takes 24 hours to repair, but if more faults [are] encountered then it takes even longer. There is always the possibility of it tripping again due to a network overload once power is restored,” he said.

James said that repairs and maintenance cost the City millions every year. He said the City was replacing copper with aluminium cables, which has similar conductivity to copper, but “no value” to thieves.

However, it would take years to roll out, he said. “We are focussing on hotspots, but thieves just move on to the next stretch or area. It is syndicated and we do random checks on scrapyard dealers.”

Last week, the City’s Member of the Mayoral Committee for Environment and Infrastructure, Nico de Jager, told GroundUp that in addition to Witpoortjie, power in Randpark Ridge, Honeydew, Ennerdale, and Eldorado Park was also cut.

De Jager blamed the previous ANC-led administration for not updating and maintaining infrastructure. He said that in some areas, the cables being used were installed in the 1930s.

“The previous administration spent R1,6 billion on new metering devices. This money should have been spent on upgrading and securing existing infrastructure,” he said.

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