Tensions ran high on Tuesday afternoon outside the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality budget and treasury building in Owen Street when Van residents, threatened to burn it down.
The Victoria Park, Aloevale, New Rest and Parkvale residents marched to the building after municipal officials, accompanied by traffic officers, cut power in those areas.
The angry residents, who burnt tyres outside the building, demanded an audience with the municipal manager, Nokuthula Mgijima and acting CFO Khululwa Mbele and threatened to set the whole building alight if power was not switched on.
“We have given this municipality a chance. We have pleaded with them. They are simply ignoring our people. Today is the day we will burn down this municipality,” said Josh Goss, a Van resident.
The protest had moved from the Van area where Victoria Road and Western Road were barricaded with burning tyres and belligerent crowds.
At one stage an Avanza driver who tried to drive past the chaos had petrol poured over him.
The residents said they were angry because they had gone to the municipal offices to negotiate their accounts, but the municipality had no records of the amounts owing.
“They have no proof of any account. How did they get to the amounts they have without issuing accounts? They have no statements – they must give us a full breakdown of how each household was billed. The municipal credit control policy states that we must be given a notice and after that we must make arrangements. Our councillor will not be here for long. We are calling for a by-election in ward 13. We have pleaded with the local municipality. They do not give us service delivery – rubbish is not collected and roads are in a bad state,” said Goss, who is also a member of an interim committee elected in that ward.
Another livid resident said she was not in arrears, having made a payment of R1500 last week, yet her electricity was cut.
“I stood in long queues to pay and now they cut my electricity off after they had told me my account was up to date and I only had to pay R451 for the month. This is not fair.”
Cebo Ndonga, another protester, said the fault was with the municipality. “People in our area went to the municipality to make payments and arrangements. I have a R3 000 receipt as proof that I had paid and made further arrangements. These people fail to follow up on their records. They just took lists and decided to switch off power. This was a miscommunication on their side.”
“This municipality is failing hopelessly. What are they doing with the money they receive? Government is giving each local municipality an equitable share. We do not receive accounts. I have not received one for more than a year but I pay every month and I am one of those whose electricity was cut off,” said Vic Samson, another resident.
The municipality was forced to take back the decision not to switch off power till a “data cleansing” had been completed.
“No lights will be cut for the whole of Mlungisi until a data cleansing exercise is complete and we have an updated list of payments,” said Noluthando Nqabisa, a member of the mayoral committee, who had gone to face the crowd.
She committed that the power would be switched on before sunset.
The residents also demanded their ward councillor, Ongama Adonis, be removed and until a by-election was held for the ward everything must be communicated via the interim committee.
“Van area residents embarked on this to protect our community. Our councillor is not active in the ward. When we call him we have to negotiate and we are sick of that. I told this councillor that we should go to Newvale to cut illegal connections and he said we would start a fight. We are now also fighting,” said Goss.
The residents demanded a clear billing record be provided to them before cuts commenced.
EMLM published apologies for the cuts. “In the operation, those who recently paid their debts or made payment arrangements were mistakenly disconnected. An agreement has been reached and 14-day notices will be issued before any disconnections take place,” said Lonwabo Kowa, the spokesperson.
He confirmed that the municipality would undergo data cleansing to update records.
“Disconnections will resume thereafter in all households that have failed to pay. Protesters have reiterated that they are willing to pay. The municipality urges every household to ensure that they pay their municipal accounts.”