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Illegal power connections double in Mangaung



Staff Reporter

Illegal power connections in Mangaung have more than doubled over the past year resulting in the local power distributor, Centlec, struggling to keep the lights on in several parts of the city as the network is constantly overloaded.

In a detailed written response to questions submitted by The Free Stater, Centlec spokesperson Lele Mamatu said illegal connections in the Free State capital jumped from 248 in 2019/2020 to 559 in the just-ended 2020/2021 financial year.

He said the situation had become so grave that it compromised the company’s ability to conform to the required design standards including regulatory requirements.

“Overloading is rife in the Centlec area of supply . . . as a result of illegal connections and vandalism,” said Mamatu.

He said this saw the company issuing fines amounting to nearly R3.2 million in 2019/2020 in order to recoup its losses.

The figure jumped to nearly R7 million in the 2020/2021 financial year.

Mamatu said the difficult social and economic circumstances faced by many people in the city resulted in some choosing to break the law.

He said the rezoning of properties from residential to business premises or vice-versa is also used as a loophole by some to draw electricity illegally as it normally takes long before the correct supplies are installed.

Areas that have been listed as problematic in Mangaung include: Namibia, Quaggafontein, Navalsig/Hilton, Hillside, Turflaagte, Dewetsdorp, Caleb Motsabi, Orangesig, Chris Hani and Freedom Square on the eastern side.

To the west, it’s Dan Pienaar, Universitas, Brandwag, Vaalbank Zuid and Bainsvlei.

The city is also losing millions to vandalism and cable theft annually.

In recent years, over 19.5km of cable have been lost to theft.

“The cost of replacing stolen cable is estimated at R 15.3 million with stolen airdac cable at R1.1 million and revenue loss at R1.3 million, totalling R17.7milliom,” he explained.

At least 250 metres of 95mm² 11kV copper cable were stolen over the past year, 6.5km of 240mm² cable, 2.7km of 300mm² 33kV cable and 10km of airdac cable.

Among the steps taken by Centlec to tackle illegal connections and theft, Mamatu said they are conducting regular inspections in different parts of the city removing illegal connections, meters that have been tampered with and issuing fines.

They also use the vending system to establish the meters not purchasing electricity and following up every month to see if they have not been tampered with or using coupons from illegal vendors.

In June this year, seven suspects aged between 28 and 67 were arrested in an early morning raid after a year-long investigation into a sophisticated pre-paid electricity vending racket in the Free State and Gauteng.

The suspects were arrested at different locations in Gauteng by a special police task team. 

At the time of the arrest, the priority crime investigating unit of the police, the Hawks, said the criminal network was responsible for large-scale pre-paid electricity fraud and theft.

The practice, according to the police, is called ghost vending as it involves the illegal sale and purchase of electricity.

The highly sophisticated and organised syndicates are said to operate in groups and generate income of approximately R150 000 to R250 000 per day from the illicit sale of electricity. 

They are well-equipped, closely networked and are difficult to track because the machines they use do not rely on a network, allowing them to be constantly on the move.

The Criminal Matters Amendment Act of 2015 states that “any person who unlawfully and intentionally tampers with, damages or destroys essential infrastructure; or colludes with or assists another person in carrying out such an activity . . . is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a period of imprisonment of up to 30 years or, in the case of a corporate body . . . a fine of up to R100 million.”

The Act defines “essential infrastructure” as any installation, structure, facility or system providing a basic service and includes publicly or privately owned facilities.

It further defines basic services as the provision of energy, transport, water, sanitation and communication. 

The Act says interfering with such equipment could prejudice the livelihood, well-being, daily operations or economic activity of the public.

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Ngwathe pays Eskom to fix damaged line



BLACKOUT . . . The Ngwathe electrical network tripped on Friday and damaged Eskom’s equipment due to overloading

Ngwathe Local Municipality in the northern Free State has paid R1.1-million to Eskom so it can repair damages to the power line in the area caused by overloading.

Eskom provincial spokesperson Stefanie Jansen van Rensburg said in a statement the payment was made on Monday morning and work to restore supplies to Parys and Vredefort has started.

“Repairs to the Eskom equipment will now commence,” said Van Rensburg.

“Based on the assessments of the damage, supply to Ngwathe should be restored by midnight tonight,” she added.

The spokesperson however said the initial repairs were focusing on the hot connections and will only be temporary to assist communities.

Another outage will be scheduled to repair the transformer bushings that were also damaged during the overloading incident.

The Ngwathe electrical network tripped on Friday and damaged Eskom’s equipment due to overloading.

“Since 2018, Eskom has warned Ngwathe that their continued exceedance of their Notified Maximum Demand (NMD) – the contracted amount of electricity supplied by Eskom to the Municipality – will eventually result in damage to the Eskom network and that the municipality needs to apply for an upgrade in their NMD.

“In August 2021 and in April 2022, Eskom informed the municipality that any damage to the Eskom network that is caused by the municipality’s negligence, will be at the municipality’s cost.

“The municipality agreed to this condition and, although they were well informed and aware of the risks, they did not take the necessary precautions or made sufficient efforts to upgrade their NMD,” Van Rensburg explained.

Following the incident, Eskom insisted on the municipality making an upfront payment as it is one of the municipalities in the province sitting with a huge debt to the national power utility.

As at end June, Ngwathe’s overdue debt to Eskom totalled R1.89 billion.

Eskom says this debt continues to grow as current accounts are not paid in full.

“Ngwathe’s non-adherence to payment conditions and negligence in protecting the power system, jeopardises Eskom’s financial sustainability as well as the security of supply to the residents of towns such as Parys and Vredefort.

“Supply to Ngwathe will be restored to the capacity as per the contracted NMD.

“Risks of overloading and consequent damage remain, and it is imperative that the municipality invests in upgrading its supply,” according to the power company. – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung electricity tariffs up



POWER TARIFFS UP . . . Local power distributor Centlec has hiked electricity charges

Electricity tariffs in Mangaung have gone up by 7.47 percent.

In a statement released on Thursday night, local power distributor Centlec said the increase was due to come into effect at midnight on July 1 following approval by the National Electricity Regulator of South Africa.

The increase will cover the period July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.

“A guideline increase of 7.47 percent on electricity tariffs for Centlec was therefore approved with effect from the 1st of July 2022 for the 2022/23 financial year,” read part of the brief statement.

It said a more detailed outline of the increases will be announced soon. – Staff Reporter

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CUT students arrested for protesting against exams



DISTURBANCE AT CAMPUS . . . Five students protesting against exams at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein have been arrested

Police have arrested five students from the Central University of Technology (CUT) for public violence after they embarked on an unsanctioned protest against the institution’s decision to have the mid-year exams conducted in person at its two campuses in Bloemfontein and Welkom starting this Thursday.

The exams are set to run until July 20.

The fracas follows an announcement by CUT acting vice-chancellor and principal Professor Alfred Ngowi on Wednesday in which he stated the exams would take place physically at the two campuses as scheduled.

Ngowi said a detailed discussion about online exams at the Welkom campus concluded that it would not be feasible to conduct online exams because circumstances have changed regarding the COVID-19 restrictions and that it was also against the policy of the university.

“CUT is a full-contact institution and not a distance learning institution and therefore does not have the authority to accredit examinations that are not done under CUT’s status as a full-contact institution,” said Ngowin in a recorded video.

Ngowi told the students that academic assessment is one of the important building blocks of their qualifications.

He warned the students against disrupting the exams saying they would face disciplinary action as such action will be illegal.

“The unreliability of the power supply may have unintended disruptive effects,” he said.

“The COVID-19 restrictions which necessitated virtual classes and virtual assessments have all been suspended and the various accrediting bodies to which CUT is affiliated may not accredit online assessments.

“Therefore, we will proceed with physical assessments.

“Management has made all necessary preparations for the smooth running of the mid-year assessments, which have been communicated to all students.

“Therefore, any student who plans to disrupt the physical examinations on our campuses must be aware of the legal and disciplinary consequences.

“In addition, the CUT management has put several measures in place to protect the constitutional rights of all our students who are prepared for and prefer to sit for physical assessments.

“Students must be aware that any disruptions of the planned and scheduled assessments are illegal and unlawful, and students who act outside the law will have to face the consequences of their actions.

“Students further need to note that failing the upcoming academic assessments will directly impact their NSFAS funding status.

“No further funding will be available to NSFAS-funded students who fail the assessments or fail to take the upcoming assessments.”

But, in a statement, members of the South African Student Congress (SASCO) at the university argued that since all assessments had taken place online due to the COVID-19 restrictions, “it is only normal that the exams take place online as well”.

SASCO also argued that some students had not received their allowances from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and it would therefore be impossible for them to write their exams in a physical setting.

But Ngowi addressed the matter earlier in the same video: “As previously communicated through the Student Representative Council, NSFAS-funded students who still have unresolved challenges with their accommodation are encouraged to make written submissions to the relevant faculty deans in that regard.”

Park Road police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Thabo Covane said members of Public Order Police Unit arrested five male students for public violence at the CUT’s Bloemfontein campus on Thursday morning.

He said the group of protesting students was warned by the operational commander to disperse within a given time as they were contravening the conditions stipulated in an issued court order but refused to do so.

“The protesting students became violent and started throwing stones and bottles at the police and the security officers,” said Covane.

“The police used stun grenades to disperse the crowd. The other group ran into King Edward Street and blocked traffic by placing stones on the road.

“Police then arrested the five students with ages ranging from 18 to 22 years.”

The arrested students are expected to appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on Monday facing charges of public violence and contravening a court order. – Staff Reporter

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