Residents of a Wallacedene informal settlement have accused an Eskom contractor of shoddy work after several pre-paid electricity meters exploded shortly after being installed.
Other meter boxes have simply stopped working, without any fireworks, but the result is the same for those affected: they are left without electricity and lose whatever units they have bought for the dodgy meters.
The angry residents say the meters are useless and the contractor, SA Reticulation Services, must collect them before someone is hurt.
Someleze Maqhetseba, 30, said she had been without electricity since her meter stopped a month ago. She reported the problem to community leaders.
“They came back and told us that the company said is waiting for material from Eskom. Since then I’m still waiting.”
Both Ms Maqhetseba and her husband are unemployed and they have three children.
“We are surviving on a children’s grant. While I had electricity, I used to sell drinks, meat and alcohol. I’m struggling now even to get a R12 to buy a bottle of paraffin because I can’t sleep in the dark because I have a 13-month-old baby. I have to buy at least four litres of paraffin a day because I have to cook.” The meter box was installed last October and stopped working in September. She said she knew of more than 50 other people in the community who had experienced the same problem.
“Some people’s boxes exploded. I’m lucky because mine just went off,” she said.
Mthandazeli Nake, 38, wasn’t so lucky. He told how his meter exploded while his wife was cooking.
“They installed it in April and in July it exploded. We saw smoke coming inside the box and after that it burst. We reported it to the company, and they came to fix it, but now when they fix it they remove the switch for the stove and left the one for lights. Now, I only use it for light. I have to buy paraffin for cooking,” he said.
Mr Nake is also unemployed, and he urged Eskom to intervene to sort out the mess.
Community leader Thobani Mthole said he knew about of about 30 households that had had problems with the meters, most of those had exploded. He had phoned both SA Reticulation Services and Eskom to complain . The contractor had told him it was waiting for materials from Eskom.
“But they didn’t specify how long it is going to take to receive. And because the company doesn’t come back we ended up giving people its contacts to phone it directly and they told them the same thing,” said Mr Mthole.
The contractor had started working in the settlement’s Section A last October and by the time it had moved to Section B, a short while later, residents had already started complaining about faulty meters, he said.
Those in the community who had inspected the faulty meters had found what appeared to be loose wiring, leading them to blame poor workmanship for the faults.
Mr Mthole said the area’s councillor Simphiwe Nonkeyiza “knows nothing about the project” and had refused to come out to the area to see what was happening himself.
But Mr Nonkeyiza rejected those allegations. “The project started way before I became a councillor in that area. So, I was not part of the negotiation before it started.”
He said he had visited the area as recently as two weeks ago in response to some concerns that had been raised about a pond of stagnant water. However, he conceded that he was not aware of the problem with the faulty meters.
Charniece Gallant, of SA Reticulation Services, promised the company would fix all the faulty meter boxes once it was able to do so.
“We are still waiting for Eskom to give us material then we will come and fix them. Maybe at the end of October or beginning of November we will be there,” she said.
Ms Gallant said the company did not manufacture the meters but simply installed them, and a factory fault could be to blame for the problems in TRA.
Eskom spokeswoman Jolene Henn said SA Reticulation Services would get the materials it needed by next week and could then start fixing the faulty meters. It was hard to know at this stage what had caused the faults, she said.
“The faults in the meter boxes can only be identified once we switch it on. Once the electricity supply is switched on and a fault is found only then can we conduct a diagnostics test. We are well aware of some of the issues that affect our recently connected customers and we urge our customers who experience any problems with their meter boxes to report the issue,” said Ms Henn.