Johannesburg power utility City Power has its work cut out as it battles to stop hijacked building dwellers in Jeppestown from repeatedly risking life and limb to illegally connect to the grid.
On Monday morning, business owners arrived to chaos after new illegal connections led to a power cut and a power struggle as community members allegedly threatened to kill those who allegedly reported them to City Power officials.
Dave* owns a factory on Suburban Street close to a transformer from which dwellers of an abandoned building routinely made illegal connections. Other people from the building also climbed a makeshift ladder to connect to the over-hanging cables on street poles. Despite a fire breaking out in the hijacked building last year because of the illegal connections, members of this community, which includes small children, refused to stop illegally connecting to the grid.
“This is getting out of hand now. They are taking charge of everything. They don’t pay taxes and we pay our taxes, we pay our water and lights and all the other companies are at risk of closing down because of these illegal connections.
“The way they connect them, you can actually see the sparks and they don’t care. They are hanging up on the poles connecting and now they have actually broken the door of the transformer room and they are going directly to the transformer,” Dave* lamented.
Last week, one of the hijacked building dwellers allegedly threatened a woman who reported recent illegal connections to City Power, after she accompanied officials to the site, according to a business owner. “This morning I got to work and my alarm system was blown. My compressor is not working, among other things I still don’t know, because we don’t have power at the moment.”
City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena said the utility undid several illegal connections around the city on Monday morning, including in Suburban Street Jeppestown.
“Our revenue protection unit have moved in this morning to remove illegal connections in Jeppestown. We conduct these operations every time there is a complaint or we pick a pattern of overloading of the network due to the illegal connections. There is one paying customer who was off due to the illegal connection, which is what prompted our action,” he said.
Even though there was some resistance from the community, officials managed to cut off the illegal connections. The utility also began welding shut the transformer substation that was tapped into, in order to deter further reconnections.
But business owners on the street said it was unlikely the community would let up so easily.
“JMPD [Johannesburg Metro Police Department] assists us along with the Saps [SA Police Service] in dealing with hostile communities and even with this one we won’t be scared to deal with illegality because the residents are hostile.
“We have requested the law enforcement to monitor the area to ensure there are no reconnections. We won’t tire to return to do the same if they reconnect. We have done so in the past. In fact, our last operation was two months ago.”