Power installation impossible in wetlands

People living in the Masiphumelele wetlands don’t have electricity because the law doesn’t allow it as it’s a safety hazard.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act makes it clear that installing electricity in a wetland is dangerous, and it is to this law that mayoral committee member for transport and urban development Felicity Purchase points when explaining why residents in the area can’t have electricity.

However, some wetlands residents claim they had electricity before to the devastating fires in 2014 and 2015 and were now forced to make illegal power connections due to the poor conditions they live in.

Community leader Tshepo Moletsane says in some cases up to four households are connected to one electricity box, and households without electricity pay up to R500 a month for an illegal connection.

He said although the City had identified zones after the fires in which to reconnect electricity – even going so far as to put up the necessary poles and electricity boxes – residents had later been told the power could not be reconnected due to a change in “the law”.

“They have been without electricity ever since,” he said.

He added that a site visit to the wetlands in December with sub-council chairperson Patricia Francke had highlighted the needs of residents in the wetlands, casting the spotlight on electricity.

He said reports on their needs were being completed and would be sent to Ms Francke’s office.

Section Z resident Nombi Ntaka said she had had to rebuild her entire life after she lost everything in the 2014 fire.

She said although she had not had electricity before the fire, she believed her new home was in an electricity “safe zone”.

Her former employer had helped her communicate with the City in order to get electricity, but all she had got were empty promises, she said.

“My house is right under a pole, yet I have no electricity. I have not connected illegally as I am afraid to do so.”

Community activist Dr Lutz van Dijk said “safety reasons” had been used as an excuse in the past for not supplying electricity. He said the City had repeatedly ignored calls for basic services in the area.

Ifthewetlandscould accommodate the engineering needed for the almost 1km-long Houmoed Road, then surely they could accommodate better infrastructure, he argued.

He asked where families in the wetlands would go once work on the road had started.

Themayoralcommittee member for human settlements, Malusi Booi, said it was impossible for the City to roll out electricity infrastructure under water and it was legally prohibited from doing so.

The wetlands might look dry, he said, but they soon flooded when it rained because of the high water table.

“The City understood the acute need for housing, but health and safety of residents is a priority,” he said.

Residents who had electricity before the fire had not stayed in the wetlands area, Mr Booi said. There had been “land grabs” by outsiders after the fires and they had forced Masiphumelele residents who had lost everything to move deeper into the wetlands.

Ms Purchase, said 34 000 people lived in Masiphumelele, according to City estimates, and 90% lived in shacks – some in backyards and others in the wetland area.

There were about 2 500 shacks in the Houmoed Avenue informal settlement and most ended up under water during the rainy season.

Once the Houmoed Road extension was approved, the City could appoint consultants to start with the planning and design of housing opportunities, Ms Purchase said.

The City was waiting for approval from the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning and the national Department of Water and Sanitation, to grant approvals to extend Houmoed Road.

The extension is set to pave the way for further development along the northern side of Masiphumelele and prevent further encroachment into the vlei. The road will be wide enough for vehicles, with pavements and is expected to have bicycle lanes.(“Road extension bad news for toads,” Echo, October 12, 2017.)

Ms Purchase said Erf 5131, a property west of the Masiphumelele sports fields and north of the waste water treatment works, would be used as a temporary relocation area once the City had the approvals it needed.

That land might be developed for housing opportunities after Houmoed Road had been extended, she said.

“We need the community leaders’ support to communicate this message to the residents,” she said.