Protesters pull plug on electricity programme

Protests have once again forced the City to place the second phase of the electricity programme in Hangberg on hold.

Despite the ongoing blackouts across the country, the City of Cape Town was set to roll out the second phase of the electricity programme in Hangberg and when the initiative hit a bump in the road, it was not Eskom that was to blame. 

A few residents living in the informal settlements on the outskirts of the area prevented the City’s contractors from installing electricity meters at nearly 40 informal houses for residents of the Hangberg Insitu-Development Area (HIDA).

According to ward councillor Roberto Quintas, when riots broke out earlier this year around the electricity depot, it resulted in the suspension and termination of essential services for Hangberg (“Protests flare up in Hangberg”, Sentinel News, September 20).

During this time, the contractors were to have kick-started the second phase of the electricity programme, but to avoid wasting time and associated expenditure, the City deployed the contractor to another project.

“The grid design is based on existing capacity in the area (Hangberg) and the beneficiaries were chosen from our list of applicants based on the fact that their physical location and legal eligibility made engineering and design sense,” Mr Quintas explained.

When the contractor returned to the site two weeks ago, some residents halted the project, threatening and intimidating City officials, as well as the contractor, and demanding that they also be connected to the electricity supply.

“The City has many times explained to the informal dwellers who have built on SANParks land that we cannot provide services on land not under the City’s jurisdiction,” Mr Quintas explained.

Efforts were made by the City, for the last decade, to take legal transfer of the SANParks land in question or at least receive power of attorney, which would legally allow the City to provide services on land falling under another sphere or entity of government.

“We would have been able to add infrastructure on to the current grid and extend the network in a manner that was safe, reliable and sustainable,” Mr Quintas said.

Meanwhile, Hangberg residents were furious that a small group of people had prevented the project from going ahead.

Adrian Maasdorp, speaking on behalf of his 89-year-old aunt, Fiona Maasdorp, said it was quite frustrating to learn that certain individuals had prevented them from being delivered a service they had been waiting for a long time.

“The protests are coming from people who do not even live in this community, but they come and make trouble here. I am angry, because Aunty Fiona has been very patient and waiting to be helped,” he said.

“Because of this handful of people, everybody must suffer and it’s just not right.”

Another resident, who wished to remain anonymous in fear of being targeted by protesters, said Hangberg should not be held captive by those wanting “handouts”.

“These people claim to representing Hangberg, but they are here for their own needs and only want things for themselves. We cannot keep suffering because people want to do their own things,” the resident.

“We are all fed up now, first the hospital and now electricity, what are they going to fight next? The City must kick all these people out rather, because those are not Hangberg residents and that is not the way we want to do things.”

Last week, City officials met with community engagement officers to discuss bringing back the contractors into Hangberg.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to return to site soonest and continue making the progress that is expected of the City,” Mr Quintas said.

Spokesperson for the Peace and Mediation Forum (PMF), Warren Abrahams, said the PMF had been working closely with the City and community stakeholders when first installations were rolled out.

“The PMF’s duties in regard to this was that we have community participation, which we did get the list to the City. The community is aware of this list and their input was of the utmost importance,” Mr Abrahams said.

He explained that the recent halting of phase 2 was due to a few “misinformed” community members who thought that these were the final installations.

Leaders of the PMF addressed the community’s concerns and they were assured that it could continue.

On Tuesday December 9, Mr Abrahams was informed that the project had again been halted, resulting in the new beneficiaries not getting electricity.

“We are making an appeal to the community to please allow this phase 2 to continue and we are in communications with the partners and other stakeholders to electrify every legal structure without electricity,” Mr Abrahams said.

“We ask the community to be patient please and bear with us that this is not a quick and easy process.”

The Sentinel’s efforts to make contact with the protesters were unsuccessful.