Struggle over power cut damage

NABEELAH MOHEDEEN

Merle Brown was out of town when the power went out in Rondebosch East in May almost two years ago. She arrived at home to find her burglar alarm system had been damaged by the sudden power outage. It cost her R2 000 to repair it.

Basil Diedericks suffered damages worth R20 000 during that same outage – which lasted a day and a half – but counts himself lucky because he was insured.

Unhappy with the response they’ve had from the City of Cape Town so far, about 30 affected residents – who collectively registered losses amounting to about R100 000 – gathered at Garlandale High School on Thursday March 17 to vent their frustrations.

Mr Diedericks, an executive member of the Rondebosch East Residents’ Association, said the power outage had not been scheduled and that for two months before it occurred there had been several outages in the area.

“It was during the day when the outage happened. People phoned the City and they came out the same day to check the sub-station. Most of the Rondebosch East area was affected. People’s fridges, stoves, ovens, all blew. No one was compensated for the damages,” Mr Diedericks said.

“I came back to a dark, panicked community. My entire burglar system was messed up. I spent over R2 000 to replace certain parts of it but I only claimed for one of the parts which was over R800,” said Ms Brown, who is also a member of the association.

Ms Brown was one of 40 residents, among them pensioners, whom the City had instructed to individually submit their claims to the City of Cape Town in 2014.

The City, however, replied saying that there had been no evidence of negligence on the part of the City, and therefore they would not pay for the damages.

They added that the service interruption in the area had been

due to the malfunction of the tap changer (part of the transformer that controls the voltage) and that the cables that feed the low voltage board induced current on the neutral cable, causing the lug (connector) to melt.

In response to Ms Brown’s claim, lodged in June 2014, the City’s Director Treasury said: “In terms of the electricity supply by-laws of the City of Cape Town, the City of Cape Town is not liable for any loss or damage, direct or consequential, suffered or sustained by a customer as a result of or arising from cessation, interruption, or any other abnormality of the supply of electricity, unless caused by negligence on the part of the City of Cape Town.

“In the view foregoing-; having regard to the nature of the incident I am satisfied to the absence of any such negligence on the part of the City or any of its officials.

“According therefore, and while indeed mindful of your loss/damage sustained, I regret to advise of my inability to accord you the compensation you seek,” the letter concluded.

But Ms Brown insisted that the residents want to be compensated.

“We want our money back. Pensioners’ appliances were destroyed and with the little pension that they get, they don’t stand a chance to replace them,” she said.

”My fridge, oven, sound system, portable CD player, alarm radio and telephone all blew,” said Mr Diedericks.

“I felt terrible. I was lost for words. We had no electricity, all our appliances were not working. Luckily I had insurance and the damages amounted to about R20 000. They never did a proper check on why we had all those power outages that led to the major one. That is why we want our money back,” he said.

The association’s secretary, Michael Counsel, said he received an email from the City of Cape Town’s Community Facilitator, Elgan Fortune, in January this year in response to a letter he had sent to the City in December the previous year requesting a meeting with mayor Patricia de Lille.

Mr Fortune responded, asking for suggested dates for this meeting, but when Mr Counsel sent him a list of the proposed dates, he was told that the mayor’s office would no longer be attending to the matter and had handed it over to the City of Cape Town’s ombudsman.

Mr Counsel then sent an email to the ombudsman, but has not yet had a response.

The residents at the meeting agreed that a letter should be written to the mayor’s office indicating that they were not happy with the service they had received, and that they wanted to be compensated for their losses, or they would take action against the City. It was decided that ward councillor Anthea Green would take the residents’ letter of complaint to the mayor’s office.

In response to an enquiry from the Athlone News, executive deputy mayor and mayoral committee member for finance, Ian Neilson said the residents must each submit their claims in writing to the City of Cape Town’s Claim Section.

“The City advises that the residents should each submit their claim for damages with all supporting documents, in writing to the City of Cape Town’s Claims Section. Each claim is assessed on its own merit, which includes assessment of whether there has been any negligence or omission on the City’s side.”

The Athlone News also contacted the City’s ombudsman, but by the time this edition went to print, there had been no response.