KHUTSONG, the restive township west of Johannesburg, synonymous with widespread unrest over service delivery, has emerged as the epicentre of electricity theft that costs the South African economy approximately R20 billion (US$1,7 billion) annually.
Khutsong, with a population of over 62 000 (2011 census), is a typical township where the original formal housing area was electrified years ago.
The area has now grown significantly with informal settlements surrounding the original formal section.
These informal settlements then connected illegally to the electrified formal section for power.
The electricity network in these townships was designed for a maximum demand of 2kVA per stand.
However illegal connections overload the transformers, resulting in regular power failures.
The informal settlements in Khutsong are infested with illegal connections which cause equipment to operate above their maximum operating parameters.
Thokozani Nsele, Eskom Customer Relations Area Manager in Gauteng, saysthe consequences are dire. Last year, at least 11 people were killed due to unsafe connections in the area. More than 20 were injured.
“We also see the devastating results of children, and adults in some cases, getting seriously or fatally injured after making contact with electricity,” Nsele says.
“It’s crucial that everyone understands how electricity works, travels and is used, to help reduce its danger as a powerful force that can result in fire, injury and death.”
The Eskom network in Khutsong is also no longer adequate, making it unsafe for Eskom staff to repair damage to infrastructure caused by illegal connections.
Nsele says fatalities and injuries to members of the public due to the unsafe use of electricity remains a major concern for Eskom in the Gauteng Province.
“What makes the problem even more concerning is that residents do not report injuries or fatalities related to electrical contact incidents. In their minds Eskom will investigate the cases if they report, and then Eskom will remove the illegal connections.”
It is anticipated the electrification of more than 2 000 homes in Khutsong will reduce illegal connections and fatalities.
“Thankfully we can now counter the bad news with some good news too,” says Nsele.
“The only thing we need is to finalise the numbers and layouts of the areas with the local municipality,” he adds.
Electricity theft, including illegal connections, meter tampering and bypassing and the buying and selling of illegal prepaid vouchers remains a serious concern for South Africa.
At least 50 people have been killed and 150 others injured nationwide in incidents linked to illegal and unsafe electricity connections in 2016/17. – CAJ News