It is no secret that South Africa is suffering from enormous electricity loss due to illegal connections, and now it has become too much of a problem to solve.
Eskom announced that they have run out of funds which contribute to the removal of illegal connections as well as the replacements of transformers that explode on a regular basis due to electricity theft.
Timothy Ngcobo, Eskom's customer relations manager for the Pietermaritzburg area, stated that the situation has become unsustainable. This led the power utility to resort to implement load reduction to try and mitigate the strain on the grid which is caused by the illegal connections.
Ngcobo added that the only way they could win the ongoing war was if communities took a stand against illegal connections. "The situation is very, very bad, and instead of a decrease [in illegal connections] we are getting a lot of people who are connecting themselves to our grid illegally. And by doing that, unfortunately, they compromise the safety of other people in the area."
South Africa is struggling with more households that were illegally connected than the paying consumers. The situation of illegal connections has become a fuming subject to paying customers as they are the people who suffer when a transformer fails due to the strain of illegal connections.
Ngcobo mentioned that those who are illegally connected do not understand that the transformers and mini sub-stations supplying the areas have limited capacity. "So, once there's an increase in consumption, due to illegal connections, our transformers and sub-stations cannot cope with the overload and, as a result, they explode. And when that happens the entire area doesn't have power for a number of days."
Eskom is struggling to win the battle, seeing that a transformer could not be repaired after an explosion, but has to be replaced at a cost of between R80,000 and R100,000.
Although several campaigns have been issued by Eskom to remove the illegal connections and take the strain off the electricity grid, culprits reconnect themselves as soon as authorities leave, which makes the battle an endless one.
After suffering more and more, Eskom had no choice but to appoint a contractor to remove illegal connections. But, due to the funds that have run out because of the rapid rate at which people were illegally connecting, the damage to Eskom's infrastructure has been done, leaving them without a cent to take any action.
"We also receive a lot of backlash when we remove the illegal connections because most people have a sense of entitlement, even though they know they are committing a crime. You'll recall in Thornville, they were burning tyres and so forth. That puts our staff at risk because their lives are not safe in such situations."
In and incident in Snathing, Eskom refused to replace the transformer until the community had removed the illegal connections. "We can't keep doing this ... Eskom has really run out of money to keep replacing these transformers."
With a new plan of action, Eskom has introduced a load reduction programme to try and prevent more explosions of transformers. "Load reduction is a localised area. This is where a transformer can only handle a certain consumption – it cannot handle more than what it was designed for."
To be able to control the new programme, Eskom stated that they know which areas are "likely to have exploding transformers" based on estimates and historical data.
Load reduction will take place in the high risk areas, where transformers will be shut down during peak times which is between 5am and 9am and in the afternoon from 5pm and 8pm.
"At least we switch you off for those few hours instead of risking an explosion, then you will be off for days while Eskom tries to find a replacement transformer."
Eskom is now appealing to communities to protect the electricity infrastructure by reporting theft and illegal connections. "We cannot sustain this and that is why we are now running this campaign to say to communities, let's work together on this because, most of the time, the people who are doing the illegal connections are known to the public. Instead of taking a stand against the perpetrators and saying 'not in our name', we get communities actually protesting against Eskom when we refuse to replace transformers when they explode due to illegal connections."
Electricity theft and illegal connection can be reported at any police station or by contacting 08600 37566 or 0800 11 2722.