Parts of KwaZulu-Natal are expected to experience prolonged periods without electricity during peak hours as Eskom’s networks experience overloading due to illegal connections, meter bypasses, and vandalism.
The “main culprit” areas expected to be hardest hit are located in the Pietermaritzburg, Newcastle, Ladysmith, Empangeni, Margate and eThekwini districts.
Parts of the province have already been plunged into the darkness since Friday when the power cuts began.
The power utility said the “load reduction” was in high-density areas experiencing network overloading due to illegal connections, meter bypasses and vandalism, which was steadily on the increase in the province.
It said residents should not log a fault during this period.
Eskom warned the power switch-off would continue for as long as its networks were overloaded.
The illegal activities had resulted in damage to Eskom’s electricity infrastructure, including explosions in overloaded transformers and mini-substations. It has cost millions of rand to repair and replace.
“Eskom has a duty to protect its electricity infrastructure and limit unnecessary losses,” Eskom KZN spokesperson Joyce Zingonu said.
She said that in the “main culprit” areas in Pietermaritzburg, Newcastle, Ladysmith, Empangeni, Margate, and eThekwini, the illegal connections also posed a danger to life and property.
“In response to this reality, Eskom will switch off the overloaded networks during peak periods in order to protect the infrastructure and for the safety of the public,” she said.
She said the power would only be switched back on after the peak loading period, or when it was safe to do so, in line with the electricity operating code.
She added that should Eskom’s infrastructure be damaged due to illegal connections, it would only replace the transformer once the illegal connections had been removed and it was safe to energize the area.
This could result in communities remaining without electricity for days on end, Zingoni warned.
“The replacement of a 20 MVA power transformer costs anything between R100000 and R7.3million, which is untenable.
“Eskom also urges communities to help manage the load by switching off appliances in order to help stabilize the network at a local level,” she said.
The eThekwini Municipality welcomed the power utility’s move to protect its infrastructure, saying that the issue of illegal connections was a “tightening noose around our neck”.
The metro’s spokesperson, Msawakhe Mayisela, said the problem had been exacerbated by land invasions in the area.
“More people flock to the city in search of economic opportunities, but when they get here they don’t have accommodation and so on. It results in land invasions and then they illegally connect electricity.
“By virtue of being a city, we are bearing the brunt of this issue that is also costing us millions to sort out,” Mayisela said.
“We do disconnect them, but immediately our backs are turned they are reconnecting illegally.
“People, including children, have been electrocuted, but this still has not deterred those who conduct illegal connections,” he added.
Mayisela said the city had spent millions of rand electrifying at least 500 informal settlements to date.
The communications manager for the uMhlathuze district, Mdu Ncalane, said there was a very low rate of illegal connections in areas where the city supplied electricity.
He said while the municipality had disconnected and fined those found guilty of illegal connections, they were aware that the issue was worse in areas where Eskom supplied electricity directly.
The head of communications for the Newcastle Municipality, Mlungisi Khumalo, also said that areas mentioned by Eskom were supplied directly by the power utility.
He said that in areas that the municipality supplied electricity, illegal connections were not as severe.
“We have a system that is able to detect illegal connections and is able to track down the perpetrators. Those areas mentioned by Eskom are not supplied by us, and we cannot comment on that,” he said.
Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the losses incurred by the municipality due to illegal connections and tampering with power were about 15% of its revenue.
“We have done social media, radio, and print campaigns on this issue. The areas cited by Eskom are in our jurisdiction, but they are serviced directly by Eskom,” she said.