The many layers of service delivery: Electricity crisis in Thembelihle

Often a community’s struggle is centred on a particular thing for so long tit becomes hard to stop and think about what happens when that service gets delivered. Will it be delivered in a practical and meaningful way? Will it be sustainable? Who will be on the lookout as projects like these are often the breeding ground for corruption? More importantly, what happens after the infrastructure has been installed and it is now time to maintain that service?

After a long campaign for access, the community of Thembelihle had their homes electrified for the first time around November 2015 courtesy of City Power. The power utility hired 3 contractors for this project. Recently, 3 transformers exploded in one week, leaving residents without electricity for 5 days. Residents with refrigerators are left stranded as this has resulted in loss of groceries that is usually bought on a monthly basis. The process of repairing those transformers has been somewhat of a slow process according to Thembelihle residents.

A shop owner knocked down one of the poles on top of which a transformer is placed with his car while chasing an alleged shoplifter. The motorist was injured and rushed to hospital after his vehicle was damaged and overturned when debris from the pole that held transformer fell on top of his car. The Thembelihle residents are now concerned about the structural integrity of the infrastructure this whole electricity project is built on.

Previously there was an issue with the CIUs (customer interface units). Customers could only recharge their prepaid electricity in the wee hours of the morning as that was the only time they could get a signal and the information of the CIUs doesn’t often correspond with owners’ details. The community has seen that the first contractor to start the installation is the one that is behind with the work schedule. They are suspicious that the contractor is delaying on purpose to extract more funds.

The community proves to be the best eyes and ears when it comes to determining the quality of service delivery because government will often outsource a solution and not check to see if it is implemented correctly.