Protests against electricity in KZN’s Lions River affect local businesses

Local businesses around Lidgetton and Howick were unable to operate over the weekend after the community of Lions River blocked the road due to power issues.

The disgruntled community blocked the R103 road just past Nelson Mandela’s capture site on Saturday and Sunday morning as they demanded that their electricity be restored.

According to uMngeni, the protesting community is supplied by Eskom and not by the municipality.

The municipality said the electricity utility, Eskom, had indicated that it would not repair faulty transformers until people in that area stopped bypassing meters, overloading infrastructure and until people would not have paid for the use.

UMngeni board chair Janis Holmes said a transformer in the area exploded on Wednesday morning. She said it would cost Eskom R150,000 to repair the transformer.

Holmes said they were told that Eskom had refused to release funds to repair the transformer until it could be assured that 75% of residences would pay for electricity.

“Until they get that assurance and people pay their outstanding debt and remove the illegal connections, they won’t fix the transformer. The whole community is without electricity. This includes those who pay for electricity. This happens right after payday and people’s fridges are full and now their food will be rotten, and they’ve lost a lot so they’re angry.

“On the other hand, Eskom is not backing down either and they are now taking a hard line and you can understand why due to funding issues. The problem is that this was done without proper consultation and communication with the community and the municipality,” said Holmes, adding that the community, schools and businesses have been left without water as the pump relies on electricity from Eskom.

“We all know that weekends are the busiest times for businesses in the region. Local farmers, tourism businesses and restaurants have been hit hard by this.

Janis Holmes, uMngeni Council Speaker

She said they were also informed that events were planned for the weekend in the area and had to be postponed and that people could not cook.

Holmes said on Friday that pupils also had to be sent home because there was no water or electricity in the schools.

She said the municipality was aware that businesses had also been badly affected and had hired the police to clear the roads to allow motorists and tourists to pass.

“We all know that weekends are the busiest times for businesses in the region. Local farmers, tourism businesses and restaurants have been hit hard by this.

She said uMngeni would discuss the situation with Eskom on Monday.

A local business owner who spoke to The witness said on Sunday the impact on his business was dire as he was forced to close for fear of possible looting or violence against staff.

“It’s all getting a bit too much and the government sits around and does nothing, which makes everything else worse from week to week…”

Local business owner

“Also, tourists and locals do not approach the area for fear of the same. My store is right where they cut everything off and the police don’t seem to be doing anything either.

He said it was bad enough to deal with the constant disruption to tourism caused by lorry accidents along the N3 in the area, now we have to deal with that.

“It’s all getting a bit too much and the government sits around and does nothing, which makes everything else worse week by week. Really sad. Tourists only come on weekends, even if they are day-trippers from PMB or Durban. Also blocks any Howick residents who come to buy food from us,” the business owner said.

After a long confrontation with police, it is believed that the police spoke to the community and agreed to stop the protest on Sunday morning. However, they threatened to resume their protest at 6 a.m. on Monday.

Charles P. Patton