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By Hein Kaiser

Journalist


Ekurhuleni metro can be made to pay residents for negligence

Boksburg residents may seek damages for prolonged electricity outages due to municipal negligence, potentially totaling millions.


Residents and companies in the Ekurhuleni suburb of Boksburg may have a claim for damages against the municipality relating to negligence.

A lawyer has said residents in other areas could also claim for compensation if they could prove outages in their neighbourhoods were due to municipal negligence.

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Thousands of Boksburg families have been without electricity for two weeks and counting, while industry has had to keep its lights on with generators.

Fuel, damaged appliances and rotting food in fridges have forced communities to dig deep, financially and mentally.

Residents spend thousands

“I have spent thousands on fuelling my generator just to keep our household going,” said a frustrated resident.

At a recent community meeting, an angry business owner and resident said: “We [taxpayers] are the goose that lays the golden egg. It’s our money they are squandering and at the same time, failing to deliver even the most basic of services.”

The community last week threatened a rates and taxes boycott “until the city gets its act together”.

But there might be another way, according to Ekurhuleni metro spokesperson Zweli Dlamini, who said: “The city allows for insurance claims [public liability] that will be evaluated by external insurance assessors on the merits of each claim. Customers may also claim from their own insurance.”

Ward councillor and Democratic Alliance spokesperson on energy Simon Lapping said claims against the metro’s public liability insurance would mean that negligence must be proved.

In this instance – and many others – Lapping said, the reason for the outage was negligence. “The municipality conceded the cables that melted down and caused this massive outage were more than 35 years old.”

Modern heavy load-bearing cables have a safe lifespan of 30 years under perfect operating conditions, a large cabling manufacturer said.

“These include no load shedding, surges, moisture, movement or continual cable faults, which can drastically reduce the lifespan of a cable.”

Lapping said there was no telling what cables which were manufactured before Ekurhuleni was even founded could withstand.

“The cables in the area should have been upgraded at least 10 years ago.” Johannesburg-based attorney John Oosthuizen of JJO Inc said a successful negligence claim against the city based on a lack of proper maintenance was possible.

ALSO READ: Boksburg community threatens to boycott rates

In this case, a statement from the city had already confirmed the cables were well beyond their sell-by date.

Oosthuizen said: “Valid claims in a valid case of negligence will have to be directly linked, causally, to the prolonged outage.”

In such an instance, claims could include generator fuel, appliance damage, rotten food and other items directly related to the outage.

Lapping reckoned claims for residents and companies could amount to several million rands. His rough maths – if each of 5 000 households and 500 or so companies claimed even R20 000 – added up to claims amounting to at least R110 million.

The outage was extended further because the municipality failed to seek permission from the provincial roads department to dig beneath a Gauteng-managed artery in time.

Lapping said he deemed this to be further negligence, adding a day or two to the blackout. He said: “The department was fully aware this cable had to be replaced at least a week ago. The question is why did the department not act and get the necessary approvals in time?”

More cables in the area could fail

Boksburg area engineer for Ekurhuleni William Oliver told residents last Wednesday that even though three kilometres of damaged cable was being replaced, there was no guarantee that other cables in the city wouldn’t fail.

Olivier was speaking at a second community meeting, which energy head of department Tshilidzi Thenga was supposed to attend… but didn’t.

Olivier also conceded that the city was not winning the battle against theft and vandalism, in spite of having an Ekurhuleni metro police task team and private security companies involved.

He urged citizens to be vigilant. Dlamini responded vaguely on the subject of the high cost of replacing burnt-out substations and cables.

“There are various types of cables, each with a different cost per metre, used in the network,” he said.

“The cost of replacement of a substation runs into millions of rands whereas a repair can cost from a couple of hundred rands to millions, depending on the technical nature of the repair.”

Lapping said: “Taxpayers are damned. They fund the municipality that has not maintained or adequately secured the network and they pay a dear price for sitting without power for days or weeks at a time.”