The hostage drama that saw residents of a Tshwane township blocking Eskom employees from leaving office in a 12-hour standoff this week was the result of weeks of “frustrations.”
The community of Morula View, a small suburb in Mabopane, northern Pretoria, took matters into their hands on Monday when they blocked Eskom employees at an industrial area in Garankuwa, demanding the power utility to urgently replace their stolen mini-substation. It was stolen on August 19, plunging just over 90 homes in Phase 3 into darkness.
According to Eskom, nine employees – eight technicians and one customer services – were held hostage until 8.30pm after law enforcements were called in to assist.
The workers were held against their will as the angry community members and Eskom management were trying to resolve their stalemate inside the power utility’s offices.
“They came in around 8am and blockaded all exit points with their cars and demanded to speak with management. Some of them were brandishing guns threatening anybody who wanted to leave. Our security officers don’t carry guns so they were overwhelmed and scared. Those people just went through them like it was nothing and came right inside the reception area demanding to speak to management,” said an employee at the centre who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation.
Another worker said the Red Ants security company and public order police had to be called.
“They did not assault us but were very forceful whenever a staff member wanted to leave. They turned away two food delivery bikers who had brought food for some workers who had been held hostage. We felt very threatened. They only let us go home around 8.30pm when police came,” said the worker.
Morula View Residents Committee secretary Itumeleng Sehole said their actions followed weeks of facing frustrations from Eskom. Sehole, said after they reported the stolen mini-substation to Eskom and they were told to open a case with the police.
“We did that and went back to Eskom and they said they’d audit the affected homes. They said 51 homes were in the red to for tempering with electricity and had to pay a R6,050 fine. At least 17 houses paid the fines but Eskom said at least 50% of the 51 owing houses should pay. We reached that 50% but then they changed their tune and said 60% must pay,” said Sehole.
The residents said their back and forth interactions with Eskom management were leading them nowhere.
“We didn’t go there to fight. We are old people and some of us are retired teachers and civil servants and we don’t carry guns. Eskom misled us, saying the mini-substation would be available on September 30 and we told them that we couldn’t wait that long. They then gave us another date of November 30. That’s when we lost it and demanded that they confirm the November date in writing but they refused and called police on us and we left,” said another resident Eddie Mohajane.
Eskom spokesperson Amanda Qithi said the power utility was dealing with a challenge of shortages of many substations which has led to delays in the replacement of these equipment. Qithi said the Morula View community is among customers affected by the delays.
“We are working with the manufacturers for a faster turnaround time so that we are able to replace the failed equipment and restore supply to our paying customers.”
The hostility directed at Eskom and municipal technicians has become common in certain parts of Gauteng. In most cases the workers would be held against their will and then forced to reconnect illegal electricity.
In June last year, two Eskom technicians escaped their capturers in Zonkizizwe, Ekurhuleni, after they were forced to restore illegal power.