Electricity Crisis in Protea South

by Lekhetho Mtetwa (ZACF)

It was on Sunday morning, the 28th of April 2010 when people from the bond houses took out illegal connections in Protea South. They were returning from a funeral when they made these disconnections by removing electricity wires.

The person who brought them to my yard, framing me as the one in charge of illegal connections, is a taxi owner named Nkosi. He kept on saying illegal connection meetings are held in my yard, as he often saw people gathered outside my yard connecting. The question is: do I have the powers to stop all people living in the informal settlement from connecting electricity? No! I don’t have any power to stop them. Only Eskom could maybe do that with the help of the state.

I was also threatened that if the main electricity box is burnt, they’ll also burn my shack. On that night people wanted to burn the main box and I contacted the Landless Peoples’ Movement (LPM) comrades to check what was happening outside our shacks. There we found angry community members planning to wake the rest of the people of the informal settlement to go and burn the box. We tried our best to stop them from burning the box and they all listened, although they were not satisfied.

Days went by and people living in the informal settlement kept on connecting electricity as they all wanted to watch the World Cup. Everything seemed normal until they came to attack us in our yards. That was on the 23rd of May 2010 between eight to nine o’clock at night. Three of them had guns, one a panga (machete) and the other a hoe. They jumped the fence and knocked at my door, and one of them said “Vula! Sifuna indonda” (Open! We want the man) without announcing who they were, as is customary. It was after we had finished eating dinner and preparing to sleep. I had to hide inside the wardrobe to save my life as we didn’t know who they were and what their plan was if they found me.

My partner, Nthabiseng, had to open after I took cover. Surprisingly these were faces she didn’t know at all. They then started to beat my partner and also search for me. By this time, luckily, my kids were asleep. They beat her and told her that they would be back for me. I wanted to avail myself to them and at the same time didn’t want to disappoint my partner as she didn’t want me to be killed. One of the guys even stole the phone that belonged to me that was on top of the television.

As they couldn’t find me, they left after beating my partner. On the street they met two guys and also beat them. This was a horrible day for shack dwellers as they had been targeted. We were fortunate enough because one of my neighbours came outside as my partner was screaming. He tried to ask those guys what are they doing but got no answer. He then asked us to sleep at his place for us to be safe as the attackers were all over the place. They then leant us their phone to let our comrades (of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front – ZACF) know about the attack. That’s when Jonathan (of the ZACF) called to find out about the attack. He then let other comrades know about everything taking place in Protea South.

After some members of the community were attacked, there were gunshots outside and one of the shack dwellers was shot dead with others wounded. People were screaming for help – which they couldn’t find because police only arrived after comrade Maureen (of the LPM) was attacked as well. That was around twelve to one o’clock the same night. Shack dwellers then got angry and started to wake others living in shacks to go and burn the main box that supplies electricity to the bond houses. As the shack dwellers were on their way to the box, the police tried to prevent them from doing so but they didn’t want to listen and, instead, they destroyed the box in front of them.

The following day it was tense to the extent that most of the people living in bond houses had to lock themselves in their yards. There were arrests, although the state proved to shack dwellers that people who have money do not stay in prison for a long time. They were arrested on Monday, but on Tuesday were released, which made people from the shacks feel unprotected. Oh, yes, money speaks all languages.

Attacks and threats kept on taking place, but the police were now arresting innocent people, just because they are from shacks. Five people from shacks were accused of all the damages that had happened. All were from LPM. They were released after few days, except one, who was left behind. He is still in jail today. He was accused of being the one who caused all the chaos. He was found dancing on top of the main burnt box.  As we speak there are comrades who are still in hiding, as they are the most wanted people by the bond house community. Some left their shacks because they are being framed as the instigators of the illegal connections.

According to them (bond house community) they believe that if they can get rid of LPM comrades, their mission will be complete.  There are comrades, including Maureen Mnisi and myself whom Nkosi and his people want to get rid of. We all need electricity. Although we live in shacks, we are still human beings.

Even today it’s dark in the area, and now the people living in bond houses went to Eskom to find out when they will fix the main box. The response they got was that they must wait for the completion of a project of installing of electricity for 82 shack dwellers, which is something that will take a long time. Eskom’s concern is that it has lost a lot of money in the Protea South area, since this is the 5th transformer that has been installed.

On the 10th of June, the bond house community marched to Eskom offices to ask it to install the box because they are paying for electricity, and that they won’t wait for whatever project it is busy with. All they want is to watch the World cup. At their March shack dwellers were not invited, as this might be a sign that shows us that war is not yet over. One of them who fed me with this information, when I ask her if they’ve invited shack dwellers said they didn’t know who to contact. The question is, when they attack, they know who to attack. It’s surprising, very surprising.  Life is now difficult for both residents of the bond houses and shack dwellers, as people are now in fear.

At last Eskom heard them; they will be able to see the World Cup. What about shack dwellers? They also connected… iznyoka (illegal connections). Oh here starts another problem. Will the bond house people remove wires again, or maybe they’ll wait until the World Cup is over? This is a big question that runs in everyone’s mind.

Things seem fine now but for how long? Is it until Eskom finishes its project? We’ll see as we no longer have trust and are also not feeling safe. Anything can happen at any time. Maybe it will be worse this time.

Protea South is an undeveloped area which is abandoned by the government, whereby there is no electricity, no street lights, no water taps, no toilets and no proper roads for shack dwellers. It is only serviced by “easy loos”, which are being shared by more than ten families. But we are not alone. Those living in the bond houses are also the victims of the capitalist system. All of us are facing issues of poor service delivery, exploitation, oppression and poverty. Fighting each other will not solve these problems. All we are doing is squabbling for the breadcrumbs that fall off the table where the bosses and rulers are having a feast!

For how long should we live this kind of life, the life of allowing the bosses and rulers to play with our minds, to use and undermine us like this? This must be the question that rings in each and every one’s mind.

For more information contact me at the following email address:
lekhetho.mtetwa (A) gmail (dot) com