Lack of basic services is the root of power crisis

It is common cause that access to basic services such as water and electricity is a daily struggle facing people living in conditions of poverty in SA. To some degree, it is the reason why cities across the country are battling an enduring trend of illegal electricity connections. Some in our communities are genuinely unable to pay for electricity and therefore ought to receive assistance provided for through government policies. Others, however, driven by a historic and warped sense of entitlement to free services, opt not to pay. The repercussions are massive. In Gauteng alone, Eskom spends about R1bn a year to repair damage to infrastructure, mostly caused by illegal connections. This is not to mention resultant blackouts in the broader geographical areas affected. Increasingly disturbing is the push back from communities, which at times is violent, against technicians who are sent to cut off illegally connected power. One of the worst cases was in the Western Cape where two security guards were shot dead in June while accompanying Eskom engineers who were attending to faulty illegal connections. The stories of attacks are similar in Gauteng and other parts of the country. This is perhaps why, in a latest attempt to cut off illegal connections in Slovo informal settlement in Johannesburg, City Power officials relied on security reinforcements from the JMPD, the police and the army. They came armed to the teeth, one resident said. Illegal wires, some as high as 10m, were cut off while residents watched. Some of the residents had connected themselves to street lights while others connected to nearby buildings. Indeed, the disconnections are a necessary step to clamp down on behavior that not only overburdens the grid, but carries severe consequences even for those who pay their way. But they are unsustainable as history has shown us that as soon as these connections are cut off, within hours, they are back on. This is because illegal connections are fundamentally a symptom of the housing and infrastructure crisis which is a ticking time bomb across the country.

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