The police fired rubber bullets to disperse a group of Aloevale residents who protested outside the town hall on Wednesday evening, blocking traffic on the N6 with burning tyres after the electricity infrastructure was damaged by a storm last Sunday.
Several areas in Komani were affected by power outages caused the storm on the already vulnerable and decaying Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality (EMLM) electricity infrastructure.
Affected areas include parts of Mlungisi where an electric pole transformer box caught fire, Melton Gardens where an electricity pole fell to the ground and has not been fixed, parts of Ezibeleni, Top Town, Nkululekweni and others, some of which the municipality managed to repair during the week.
However, Aloevale has been off all week and frustrated residents camped outside a substation in Newvale where their electricity is connected, to monitor technicians from East London who were working on site.
Ward 12 councillor Bulelani Mgoqi indicated he was informed by the technicians that they could not detect the fault with the transformer, and therefore could not assist.
Early on Wednesday evening, Aloevale residents burned tyres outside the EMLM technical services department demanding to speak to the manager, Madoda Matola, who they said had been giving them the cold shoulder all week, and ignoring phone calls.
Resident Joyce George, 65, said the municipality did not prioritise matters concerning coloured people and was quick to call police to bully and intimidate them.
“Every time we raise our concerns we are met with the police first before the leadership, but you did not see that when Ezibeleni burned the town hall two weeks ago. The mayor immediately availed herself to speak to them, but because we are coloured we are shot at without anyone finding out what the trouble is.
“I survive on medication that needs to be in the fridge and I am struggling because the ice in the freezer which I used these past few days has melted. Our children bath with cold water. We are throwing away food that would have been in a good state if there was electricity. We pay for our services and yet we have no electricity. They are quick to block us, even indigent people when they do not pay. This is unfair treatment.”
Another resident, Lamla Tsotso, said it was unfortunate that residents had to resort to violence to be heard because the powers that be disregarded them when they were civil and did not take them seriously.
Melton Gardens resident John Plaatjie said they were in double the trouble as they were dependent on a borehole to access water, which also relied on power to function.
“We are stuck here without water and electricity and there has not been any communication from the municipality which is very frustrating. I spoke to Matola who initially promised electricity would be restored on Monday, but in our latest communication he said it could take up to two weeks to fix the problem. If they do not fix our electricity we may be forced to take to the streets as well.”
EMLM spokesperson Lonwabo Kowa said the Sunday storm caused damage to the electricity infrastructure, leading to outages that the municipality was fixing.
“In Amberdale, there was damage on the main line, causing problems at the power lines to supply the houses. Power lines in Melton Gardens were also damaged, but a service provider will be working to restore power in the area on Thursday. In Ezibeleni and Queendustria electricity supply was interrupted on Monday and the matter has been attended to.”
EMLM mayor Luleka Gubula promised Aloevale residents that municipal leaders would do everything in their power to ensure electricity was fixed in Aloevale on Thursday.
The mayor was addressing residents outside the town hall while the police and fighter fighters extinguished the burning tyres and removed the debris blocking the road.
‘If we have to divert the electricity connectivity from Aloevale to another substation that is what will happen so that there is power in the area. I was already home when I heard there was a problem and I did not hesitate to come and speak to the residents as I have done before, also in the evening. I do not want you to perceive us as a government that prioritises whites more than we do coloureds. We treat all people the same, regardless of their race or political affiliation.”
Gubula apologised on behalf of the police for shooting at residents who merely wanted their voices heard, saying they may have reacted due to the many burning tyres on the road, thinking there was violence.
“I would also like to apologise on behalf of Matola for the way he conducted himself. We have our own ways of dealing with people [like him]. We did not anticipate fixing the cable faults would take so long and we are truly sorry things had to end this way.”