/ 19 April 2024

City Power goes ahead with plan to separate Joburg residents from hospital electricity networks

No Load Shedding Until May, Says Eskom Head
City Power has been reconfiguring its network to separate residents connected to essential service networks and move them to a different one.

Every night, as Sindile Sibanyoni tucks her 11-year-old child in bed, she hopes the electricity doesn’t fail overnight, endangering the life of her son who relies on oxygen to stay alive.

Her fear has intensified because City Power needs to provide additional power to essential services such as hospitals and plans to move houses off these networks. 

“We have received a notice from City Power that our area will not be spared from load-shedding when the city reallocates houses to power cut-prone areas to have additional megawatts sent to these so-called essential areas,” said Sibanyoni.

She lives in Power Park, not far from Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital and Dr Matseke Memorial Hospital in Soweto, Johannesburg. 

The reallocation of electricity follows the high court’s ruling that ordered Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent any interruption of power as a result of load-shedding to hospitals, public schools and police stations. The City of Johannesburg has approved steps to move houses in these exempt areas to other networks that aren’t exempt from load-shedding.

Besides having been exempted from load-shedding, Power Park is one of the areas in Johannesburg that has been red-flagged because people have not been paying their electricity bills.

“We have always known that our turn would come for us to also experience load-shedding, but I had found solace in that we would be spared because we are close to Dr Matseke Memorial Hospital. I am poor and cannot afford to have solar panels on my roof. This needs to be stopped,” she said. 

The prolonged power outages that are a common occurrence in the country worries Sibanyoni.

“The problem is that although everyone needs to experience power cuts, I cannot afford to have five minutes off. The neighbouring townships experience extended hours of load-shedding, five hours minimum.

“This means that I have to be prepared for a funeral before my son dies because the machine he is plugged into keeps him alive, said Sibanyoni. “I am not sure what needs to be done. I have written letters to the council and no help has been given.”

Timothy Hutler, a former construction worker living in Brixton, echoed Sibanyoni’s plight saying that removing residences from load-shedding exempted areas would be detrimental for his wife, who needs a dialysis machine to survive.

“We have been waiting for a new kidney for the past two years and we have not been lucky. My wife lives on a dialysis machine or she will die. We moved to Brixton because of the friendly electricity plan. Our finances have depleted because of the medical bills, so solar is not an option,” he said.

Brixton is linked to Garden City Hospital and also has a water tower, fire station and a police station.

City Power 

Since the court’s December 2023 decision ordering cities to implement it by 31 January, City Power has been reconfiguring its network to separate residents connected to essential service networks and move them to a different one.

City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena said: “The judgment has us tied. If Eskom says it demands 4 000 megawatts, we need to give them those megawatts by load-shedding residential areas and excluding the hospitals to allow them to continue with their business of saving lives. This means residents need to be removed from the network so that they can have their separate feed.” 

He added that this meant the city needed to spend more money to reconfigure the electricity system and procure new cables to separate the networks.

“When the city was built, it was not designed for load-shedding. That is why you will find that residential areas are connected to essential services. Those that are benefiting from the exemption are those who are still embedded in the networks. But everyone needs to experience load-shedding for fairness in the country.” 

Mangena said the process would be expedited because the city was not disconnecting people from the grid or their substations. Instead they are changing the network cable. 

He did not give a completion date, saying that this would depend on the budget. 

He added that the city had to ensure that the effect of the reconfiguration was minimal. A delay in the separation means that hospitals such as Dr Yusuf Dadoo in Krugersdorp experiences load-shedding because it is not yet separated from the residential feeders. 

Mangena said: “Helen Joseph Hospital in Auckland Park recently got separated and is now exempted because of the separation. The reason it was experiencing load-shedding [before the exemption] is because it was not separated from the network because of budgetary constraints, which made it difficult to exempt it in time.”