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Efforts to remove illegal electricity connections in recent days resulted in violent backlash, damaging more City infrastructure in the process. Read more below:

The City of Cape Town’s Electricity Services Department is facing an uphill battle to prevent illegal connections to the grid. Last week, attempts to disconnect illegal users resulted in violent protest action in Schaapkraal and the Philippi Horticultural Area.

The area is home to the Egoli and Jim se Bos informal settlements. Both of these settlements are on privately owned land and therefore cannot be electrified without legal agreement from landowner, which has not been provided. As a result, illegal connections abound, resulting in vandalism of electricity infrastructure in the area and also causing power supply disruptions to neighbouring communities on a regular basis.

The two settlements account for approximately 2 000 illegal connections, with an estimated loss of six kilowatt hours per connection per day. The loss of income to the City is estimated at nearly R650 000 a month. In addition, there is an increased frequency of power failures that affects nearly 900 legal customers who experience an average of six outages a week. The City also has to account for the increased cost of repairs caused by vandalism of the electricity infrastructure and the associated overtime to effect repairs. Damage to electrical equipment has cost at least R1 million over the last three years in Egoli and R1 million over two years in Jim se Bos.‘We’ve also had to start employing the services of Law Enforcement to protect our staff when they go into these areas because of the risk of violent backlash. After the most recent events in Philippi where our vehicles were stoned by protestors and staff threatened, a number of them have had to go for trauma counselling and are understandably reluctant to return to the area,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Utility Services, Alderman Ernest Sonnenberg.

The City is equally concerned about the safety of the public around illegal electricity connections. Earlier this year, a 17-year-old teenager died after being electrocuted while trying to re-establish an illegal electricity connection in Jim se Bos. Three years ago, a 12-year-old boy was electrocuted in the same area after falling on an illegal electricity connection.

‘Loose, illegal cables are incredibly dangerous and pose a huge risk to life. If such a cable is live and makes contact with a person, they are likely to get electrocuted. In the event that a cable rests on top of a corrugated iron informal dwelling, then merely touching the side of the structure can cause electrocution. There is also the fire risk that we need to factor in. I urge the public to think twice about these connections and the danger they pose to themselves and their families,’ added Alderman Sonnenberg.

Anyone found guilty of establishing illegal electricity connections can be fined R2 000. However, given that illegal connections result in damage to electricity reticulation infrastructure equipment, they could also be prosecuted under the Criminal Matters Act which could lead to sentences of up to 15 years imprisonment.

Members of the public can report cable theft or vandalism of City infrastructure to the Public Emergency Communication Centre by dialing 021 480 7700 from a cellphone or 107 from a landline.

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