Mookgopong blackouts draw regulator’s attention

AfriForum in Mookgopong, Limpopo has turned to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) to intervene after it failed to get the local municipality to address recurring power outages costing businesses thousands of rands.

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Philip van Staden, AfriForum chairperson in Mookgopong said it had met with Nersa to discuss power outages in the area, and the impact thereof on businesses and farmers. He said Mookgopong is a tourism hub consisting of various businesses, especially holiday resorts and game farms. He said during power cuts, Mookgopong Local Municipality workers refuse to restore power supply over weekends, as they don’t get paid overtime.

Van Staden also blamed old, poorly maintained power lines which have never been upgraded over the past 30 years. The municipality is supposed to allocate at least 6% of its budget to maintenance, but he said there is no indication of such expenditure in the municipality’s integrated development plan. He said only R1,7 million for the electricity back-up generator was budgeted for in the 2012/13 financial year.

Van Staden said between January and March this year, the area had experienced over 40 hours of blackouts, mainly during weekends. “We sent a letter to municipal manager, Frans Modise, requesting him to address the issue,” said Van Staden. “However, there was no reply.”

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Hennie Fouche, a farmer in Mookgopong producing on 2ha under electricity-run greenhouses and also owner of the five-star Edenpark camping resort, paid over R16 000 for extra running costs, such as diesel, last year. This was on top of the normal land tax that farmers need to pay the municipality.

Fouche said for the past five to six years the quality of the local electrical network had been very poor. He said there had not been maintenance or upgrades on the Rondalia and Constantia lines, supplying most farms. “Even though the demand on these lines has more than doubled recently,” said Fouche, who employs 50 permanent staff. He said his plans to build three new greenhouses on 1,5ha, which is a R9 million local investment with the potential of employing an additional 30 people, has been halted due to the electricity problem.

Municipal spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said municipal electricians do work overtime. He said he was aware of the Rondalia line where one pole fell. “Although we managed to fix it, main lines such as this one are Eskom’s responsibility.” Seshoka said another challenge was that many lines were running on private farms, which is sometimes a challenge to access. “Mookgopong [Local] Municipality is very small and we only have four electricians,” he said.