No light at end of Eastern Cape villages tender

The villagers of Zigadini and Sivumela in KwaBhaca Eastern Cape have been waiting for electrification for years. Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik Pictures

  • The R31 million Sivumela Electrification Project was due to be completed in 2017.
  • Seven villages that should have benefited are still without electricity eight years after the start of the project.
  • The municipality blames the consulting engineers and Eskom for the delays.

Villagers from Zigadini and Sivumela staged several protests, demanding that the municipality complete the electrification of villages in the KwaBhaca (Mount Frere) area of ​​the Eastern Cape.

In 2014, a tender worth R31.2 million was awarded by the local municipality of Mzimvubu for the electrification of seven villages: Zigadini, Sivumela, Maxhegwini, Luyengweni, Lower Mnyamane, Magontsini and Chwebeni . GroundUp reported in 2020 that the project came to a halt when the contractor abandoned the site in 2019. The project is still far from complete.

In Zigadini, which has 447 households, electric poles were installed in 2019. But only around a hundred houses have meter boxes to date. Every year, the community organizes a demonstration and the municipality sends a contractor to connect a few more houses to electricity. This happened in October 2021 and January and August 2022, according to Zigadini community leader Sotyali Siko.

In Sivumela, which has almost 400 households, electricity poles were installed in 2018. The contractor returned in December 2020 for two days and installed meter boxes in some houses.

Pat Jali, a resident of Sivumela, said: “What they do now is every time we have a protest, they send a contractor to install the meters in a few houses around Zigadini. This will give us hope since we are the next village after Zigadini.

Sivumela is four kilometers from Zigadini.

Ward 24 councilor Mlungiseleli Jonase (ANC) said residents had written many letters to the municipality.

“Last year, the inhabitants organized a demonstration and the municipality promised to order the meter boxes. In June of this year, they said the order had arrived. We waited [for installation] until residents staged another protest last month,” he said.

Mzimvubu local municipality spokesman Nokhanyo Zembe told GroundUp in 2020 that construction company and consulting engineers RPS Ilangabi left the site in 2019 without the consent of the municipality. She said the reason remains unclear.

The construction company claimed that RPS Ilangabi owed it R12 million for the work carried out. Under the contract, all payments were made directly to RPS Ilangabi by the municipality. She said RPS did not respond to calls from the municipality.

Zembe has now told us that RPS destroyed all approvals and designs, which forced the municipality to start the approvals process all over again.

Zembe also blamed Eskom for the delays. She said the municipal contractor needed Eskom’s approval to build a link line between his lines and Eskom’s.

But Eskom spokesperson Pilie Gabela said that the Sivumela project is only executed by the local municipality of Mzimvubu… [and] does not depend on Eskom for its execution.

Zembe said: “The contractor is installing the outstanding meters and the installation in the two villages will be completed by the end of the month. [September].”

At the time of publication, only nine additional meter boxes had been installed.

We spoke to Regis Masuku from RPS Ilangabi, but he hung up before we could get any clarification.

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