‘We don’t matter’: Orange Farm residents detail struggles of life without power

Some parts of Orange Farm have gone without electricity for months after a power transformer exploded. The affected residents have revealed how the lack of power has affected their quality of life in an already struggling community.

FILE: A lamp post used as a bridge for illegal electricity connections. Picture: EWN

ORANGE FARM – There is one tarred road in Orange Farm and off it, dozens and dozens of narrow little gravel streets.

When it rains, as it did on the days that I visited, those streets turn to bright red mud rivers.

You see, in two parts of this township residents have been without electricity for upwards of eight months.

In one area known as Drieziek, residents last had access to electricity a full year and three months ago.

Think about that for a moment. No way to cook conveniently, no way to heat your home to ward off the icy Joburg winter.

I chat to Lindiwe Ndou, the owner of an early childhood development centre in the area, who put the lack of power into stark perspective.

Ndou works as a janitor at a nearby clinic and all the money she earns cleaning up goes to buying gas so that, at the very least, they can have hot water.

“When these kids soil themselves, you don’t want to wipe them with cold water,” she said.

Close by, I knock on the door of a two-roomed brick and mortar house. I am welcomed with open arms into almost complete darkness.

Emma Komeke is one of seven family members who live in the house. And life is made all the harder for the lack of electricity.

“We’ve been in the dark, suffering. Until today, we have no answers on why we don’t have a transformer or electricity. We have small children, it’s cold and gas is expensive. The neighbours refuse to help because we don’t matter, nobody cares,” she said.

The stories go on and on.

An elderly couple, 83-years-old Joseph Nxumalo and his 70-year-old wife Gladys, spend almost all their social grant money on cheap, unhealthy, processed food.

HIGH CRIME RATE

Community leader Thabiso Radebe said that the lack of power was not just affecting the quality of people’s lives, there was a serious safety issue at play too.

“The streetlights don’t work, and crime is a problem in the area. We hear people even screaming in the middle of the night and we need the government to intervene,” he said.

Radebe is lucky enough to live in one street that does still have electricity.

It is a strange experience standing on his side of the street looking at a row of functioning streetlights but turn through 180 degrees and look at the other side and all the lights are dark.

“I really feel for the plight of the community in the dark,” he said.

The area was plunged into darkness after a transformer exploded in June last year.

Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said that the utility was facing a major backlog of aging and damaged infrastructure that needed to be replaced across Gauteng.

But this is not the only Orange Farm area left powerless because of a transformer explosion.

A short distance away residents of extension 8B have not had electricity for eight full months.

Khanyile Goba, who resides in extension 8B, said that when they complained to the power utility that their transformer was making an unusual sound, the technician who came to inspect the problem offered a staggering solution.

“The transformer started to trip, and we called the technicians and they told us to take care of the problem ourselves. The transformer eventually exploded, and we are still without electricity,” she said.

Mantshantsha said that they had been made aware of the allegations that its technicians were accused of bribery, graft, and negligence.

“We have had quite a lot of allegations and where we have had evidence, indeed Eskom has taken disciplinary action and meted out the appropriate sanction,” he said.

ONE STREET WITH POWER

Then there is the matter of the one street that has power in the area.

Residents there are the lucky ones and their luck has caused division in the small community.

Even there, where people say they do pay their bills and are grateful to still be connected, the recent bout of load shedding has them wondering whether they should continue to pay.

Eskom has to be said that non-payment and illegal connections were rife in this community.

However, without the bare minimum and consistent supply of electricity to sustain even the most basic requirements of heating and cooking – schools, businesses, the lives of the elderly and the young will continue to be disrupted indefinitely.

For its part, Eskom maintains that it will not negotiate on the conditions that need to be met before it restores power to some parts of Orange Farm.

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