Rolling Eskom blackouts, which have plunged neighbourhoods into darkness and paralysed cellphone networks, give criminals the edge, and Table View’s Community Police Forum boss warns the public to take extra precautions.
South Africans endured two-hour-long power cuts up to three hours a day last week after the country’s power utility – crippled by R420 billion debt, poor maintenance and corruption – pushed the button on Stage-4 load shedding.
The power cuts stopped on Sunday, but more are likely to come, especially as the country heads into the winter when rising power needs place more strain on the national grid.
CPF chairman David Harris has warned residents not to let down their guard.
“We urge residents to be on alert and to be aware, and to make sure their doors and windows are locked and closed.”
Table View Neighbourhood Watch’s Laura Outhet said they did not have data to show crime spikes during power cuts, but “common sense tells you that your assets and homes are definitely more vulnerable at these times”.
An added problem was that the neighbourhood watch phone “has issues with received calls” during the power cuts.
“SAPS phone lines also have issues at these times. Signal is intermittent at best, this is a nationwide problem during the rolling blackouts,” she said.
Table View SAPS spokeswoman Captain Adriana Chandler said a generator kept charge-office phones operational even though other phones at the station stopped working during power cuts.
Police had not noticed an increase in crime during load shedding, she said.
There have been many reports of cellphone networks failing during the blackouts.
MTN’s executive for corporate affairs, Jacqui O’Sullivan, said ongoing Stage-3 and Stage-4 load shedding posed “significant threats” to MTN’s mobile sites, even though they had battery backup systems.
“The majority of MTN’s sites have been equipped with battery back-up systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the systems for several hours when local power goes down. However, the frequency of Stage-3 and 4 load shedding is resulting in batteries not having enough time to recharge.”
The batteries generally had a capacity of six to 12 hours, she said, but needed 12 to 18 hours to recharge. That wasn’t possible during Stage-3 and Stage-4 load shedding.
“Teams of technicians are being redeployed as and where required, and additional shifts are being worked to restore and maintain connectivity, as quickly as possible, for our customers,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
Summer Greens has seen an increase in car-battery thefts, according to the Raquel Croeser of the Summer Greens Neighbourhood Watch.
She said the watch had had to change its patrol times to match the load-shedding schedule. “The high-risk times would be from 8pm onward during power outages, as the area is pitch dark, and early hours of the morning at 1am.
“People should be aware of the times of power cuts in the area and subscribe to alert notifications for one to be prepared,” she said.
People should take safety precautions during that time, she said.
“Make sure you test your alarm systems to ensure they are in working order and you have a battery back-up. Disconnect appliances and electronics to avoid damage from electrical surges. Start a street committee with the neighbours in your street, and do regular walks around your block during power outages,” she said.
The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) has approved a 13.87% average price hike for electricity for Eskom-direct customers, to be introduced on April 1, and a 15.63% average increase for municipalities, from July 1.
In a statement, last week, Eskom said load shedding was necessary to prevent a total collapse of the national grid and a countrywide blackout. Some 80% of the country’s energy demand was still being met during Stage-4 load shedding, it said.