GroundUp (Cape Town)

30 January 2013

South Africa: Are the Lights Coming Back On in Khayelitsha?

Broken streetlights in Khayelitsha are at the centre of a debate between civil society activists, Premier Helen Zille, Mayor Patricia De Lille and several councillors responsible for wards along Lansdowne Road.

GroundUp ran its first report on the broken streetlights on the Khayelitsha portion of Lansdowne Road in June 2012. In September we ran two more articles. This was followed by commitments on Twitter by both Premier Helen Zille and Mayor De Lille to sort out the problem. Two weeks ago, GroundUp published an article by Doron Isaacs that explained that the problem was still not addressed. Based on a map prepared by GroundUp in September and then updated two weeks ago, the situation had actually worsened with even fewer lights working.

The section of Lansdowne Road from the corners of Mew Way to Baden Powell Drive is densely populated. At night the road is difficult to drive along and pedestrians can easily be hit. The lack of lighting also puts residents at higher risk of violent crime.

On Monday night activist organisations in Khayelitsha will march down Lansdowne Road to demand a plan to improve the lighting along on the road. The marchers will demand not only that the out-of-order lights be fixed, but that the City provides a plan to improve lighting along the large parts of the corridor that currently have no streetlights at all. Axolile Notywala is with the Social Justice Coalition and lives in Green Point Khayelitsha, not far from Lansdowne Road. He said, "Broken lights put a lot of people at risk. People leave their houses early in the morning in the dark and come back very late. They are at risk of getting robbed or killed. The City blames the community for vandalism of street lights. But vandalism is something done by a few people and the lack of streetlights affects thousands."

City making progress

The City does appear to be making progress. We have seen that lights for a short stretch along Lansdowne Road, from the corner of Mew Way to Oliver Tambo Hall, have indeed been repaired since GroundUp published Isaacs' piece. Also City officials sent us details yesterday of their plans to fix lights in several parts of Khayelitsha. These are described at the end of this article.

What the councillors say

In response to our articles, we were challenged by readers, as well as Premier Zille, to find out what the local ward councillors were doing about it. Actually, in the June article we reported:

Ward Councillor Danile Khatshwa of ward 96 has been complaining about the lights for his ward, but thinks it isn't taken seriously by his sub-council (24). Talking to GroundUp, he counted all the lights that are not working on Mhlophe Crescent, Nkwili Road, Sivivane Crescent, Thubelisha, and Lansdowne Road. "I have written letters and raised the issue in several meetings, but until now no response", Khatshwa complains. "The bulbs don't last long, besides that there have been new lights put in few areas, but still today they are not on." When he asked about the lights, he was told that municipality has done its part, and Eskom is responsible for the delays.

We have followed up further and attempted to find out from all the ward councillors along the corridor what they have done to sort out the lighting:

Mthwalo Mkutswana is an ANC councillor for ward 97. He said it is the City that failed to fix them on time. He claims that he reported the problem to the City's power helplines: 086 003 7566 and 086 010 3089. He also says he sent emails to the City but says that nothing has been done and there has been no clear response on when the lights will be fixed. We asked Mkutswana to send us the emails he sent to the City, but he had not done so by the time of publication.

Danile Khatshwa, the ANC councillor we interviewed in June, said that since the interview he hasn't received any response from the city. However, he received a call yesterday from the company that the City has sent to fix the streetlights. He also claims to have reported the problem to his sub-council (24), but that it has not taken the issue seriously.

John Heuvel is a DA councillor for ward 109. He did not respond to our telephone calls. His sole response to us was for his secretary to forward our email to the Civic Centre requesting them to deal with it. So we do not know what if anything Heuvel has done to deal with the lighting issue.

Monde Mabandla is an ANC councillor for ward 91. He said, "We took the city council for a tour of Khayelitsha to show them the lights that don't work. A report to the sub-council has been put together about the lights that do not work. The Electricity Department was also invited so that we could tell them about the lights that do not work, the outcome of the meeting was the fixing of three mast lights. We always raise the issue of lights and we send the reports to the sub-council as well." Mabandla referred us to sub-council chairperson, Patrick Mgxunyeni, who indeed sent us a copy of a report of broken lights.

Amos Komeni is an ANC councillor for ward 93. He said, "I am absolutely aware of the lights issue. I think it is an indirect link regarding the road fatalities in Khayelitsha [Khayelitsha has the highest road fatality rate in the city. - Editor] The houses that are on the side of the road are at a higher risk and maybe someone walks out and gets hit by a car because it is so dark. We notified the City regarding this issue, one after the other. Even in sub-council meetings we raise the issue of lights all the time. No-one has come to me regarding the issue in the community. I think the reason might be that they are tired of complaining when they know nothing is going to happen."

Luvuyo Hebe is an ANC councillor for ward 90. He said, "People die on our roads, they get mugged and somehow I know it must be related to the fact that the street lights are out, not forgetting the fact that there is gangsterism as well and that people are cruel. We have talked to the City of Cape Town so many times but we haven't got any help. I even went to Eskom to try and convince them to do something but still nothing. No, no-one has come to me to complain about the lights. I am the one who makes an effort to go and bring the matter forward."

Premier's office

We sought the view of Premier Zille. Zak Mbhele, her spokesperson, wrote in response to us that complaints about the Khayelitsha lights received by the premier were reported to the City, because it's a local government responsibility. Premier Zille received a report from the mayor that the lights were fitted in September 2012. However, Mbhele continued, the lights were vandalised again due to illegal connections, vandalism and cable theft. Mbhele wrote, "The City has a limited budget and repairing public infrastructure after every incident of man-made damage is not possible."

Mbhele also claimed that in one instance the installation of cabling in a section of Lansdowne Road was stopped by the ward committee. However, when asked for details of which ward committee, he could not find that information and referred us to Sheeham Sims, the Mayoral Committee Member for Utility Services. Sims however did not respond to our email requesting this information.

City's response

We contacted the Mayor's office to find out details of what is being done to sort out the lights problem. We received detailed responses from Solly Malatsi, Mayor De Lille's spokesperson as well as Gisela Kaiser of the City's electricity department. They told us [with GroundUp comments in square brackets]:

All the lights along Lansdowne Road between Mew Way and Baden Powell were repaired in September 2012. [However, one of us, Yawa, lives in the area and does not recall the lights along the stretch of Lansdowne Road where she lives being fixed for years. We are making further enquiries to confirm this claim.]

Also, in September, all lights with a life-span of five years were fitted. This resulted in the "burning rate in a major part of Khayelitsha" improving from "20-30% to that 85-90%."

"Within six months only 35% of these lights were working." [It is only five months since September.] "This is because in some areas illegal electricity connections overloaded the supply system, and " vandalism broke many of the lights. "For example, in Symphony Way alone, cables were stolen twice by vandals digging up tar."

"As of last week, the average burning rate of street lights in the area was found to be 35%." Two contractors have therefore been appointed to undertake streetlight repairs in Khayelitsha.

The City spokespeople said these streetlights have been repaired: [In the next week, GroundUp will attempt to verify this.]

  • On Mew Way between Lansdowne and Oscar Mpetha Roads
  • On Pama Road between Mew Way and Lansdowne Roads
  • On Spine Road between Mew Way and Lansdowne Roads

The City spokespeople said these are currently being worked on:

  • Lansdowne Road between Mew Way Baden Powell Roads
  • Steve Biko Drive

The City spokespeople explained that there are technical problems hampering repairs along Lansdowne Road related to Eskom's 11kV lines on both sides of the road. The City is working with Eskom to resolve this.

The City spokespeople also said they are making a range of investments in public lighting. For example, they said, "27 new 40 metre high mast lights - many of which were in the Khayelitsha area" were installed.

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