Fire victims at Overcome Heights want electricity and water restored

It has been a month since a fire displaced 800 people

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Photo of protesters
Electricity is in the process of being restored in Overcome Heights, Vrygrond. Photo: Bernard Chiguvare

About 15 residents of Overcome Heights informal settlement who survived the fire that destroyed over 300 homes and displaced 800 people last month, picketed on Friday on the corner of the M5 and Vrygrond Avenue. They were protesting that electricity and water has not been restored, a month later. Placards read: “No electricity, No water, No roads” and “Fire victims: still no water, electricity and sanitation”.

Residents said electricity poles were erected at the beginning of the month but the contractors went away.

“We have decided to stage a peaceful demonstration today because we understand this is the only language the City quickly understands. From our past experiences the City will never respond to emails. We have often tried to communicate our concerns through our councillor but never get feedback,” said Mike Khumalo, chairperson of Vrygrond Community Development Forum.

When GroundUp visited the affected area electricians were busy installing boxes on the poles. Xabiso Somdyala, a supervisor, said, “I am expecting to install electricity in all houses by mid December.”

16 poles for electricity connection are in place. A company is busy installing pole boxes and meter boxes. Somdyala said they install 20 meter boxes a day.

The communal water tap in the middle of the settlement was destroyed by fire. There are taps at the communal toilets near a sports field, but, says resident Lorna Nkothana, “There are a lot of skollies [thugs] around the sports field and it’s dangerous fetching water after dark. We have to store buckets of water for use at night.”

Lona Zanele, who was also picketing, said, “Since October I have been indoors everyday around 5pm. There is no electricity and it becomes dangerous. Skollies take advantage of the dark.”

Zanele uses candles at night. Since the fire she has used more than 20 candles. She says she uses nearly R30 worth of paraffin in a day.

Update: City responds

Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste Services; and Energy, Councillor Xanthea Limberg said, “The installation of new electricity connections is in process. In the week following the fire, work was undertaken to plan repairs, appoint a contractor, and procure supplies. During this week, electricity was also restored to about 200 structures which were not destroyed in the fire. The City’s Informal Settlement Management and Backyarder Department also delivered enhanced emergency building kits to registered fire victims on Saturday 27 October, and have issued kits to all fire-affected families whose structures were affected.

“After this, the City had to wait for those who had their homes destroyed to rebuild and for confirmation that they had electricity supply before the fire. This has been under way since the beginning of November. Approximately 60 structures have been connected as of 3 December 2018, and it is expected that the remaining 90 will be completed by 7 December 2018.

“The City has also identified approximately 50 additional structures which are to be electrified in a separate process, which is expected to be completed by 15 December 2018.

“Some problems experienced by the City included community interference, obstruction, and abuse of staff, as well as being unable to work effectively due to the high density of dwellings.”

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TOPICS:  Electricity Sanitation

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