FARMERS in Shaw Park are battling to obtain the basic services of electricity and telephone reception which are intermittently available.
Several farmers on the same electricity line in the Shaw Park area have experienced a large number of power outages so far this year. The blackouts have a knock-on effect in water supply on the farms – which do not receive municipal water – as they cannot operate their pumps for boreholes and water tanks.
Farmer Andre Bellingham said there were 25 power cuts last year, and between January 27 and February 23 this year there were seven which lasted 6-8 hours each.
“There were power outages on January 27 and 31, and February 13, 14, 17, 18, 19 and 20,” he said.
The power went out from 10am to 9pm on Saturday February 17 and went off again on Sunday at 3pm until it came back on late in the night. Then it went off on Monday February 19 and the following day – so in effect the electricity was off for four days in a row.
Eskom came out to fix the symptoms and reset the fuses, but when they left, the electricity went off again.
“They don’t bother to find out what is causing the problem,” he said.
Farmer Dave Townsend said he had been personally been reporting outages to the Eskom call centre for the past four or five years and the problem was due to a lack of maintenance.
The problem is that the servitude on either side of the electricity cable is not maintained
“The problem is that the servitude on either side of the electricity cable is not maintained, but is overgrown with trees growing up about the lines. As a result whenever there is wind or rain there is a short,” he said.
Grahamstown vet Kathrin Claassens, who has a small farm in the Shaw Park area, said that the farms rely on borehole water and rainwater tanks as they are not connected to the municipal water system and when there is no electricity the pumps do not work so they do not have any water.
When there is no electricity the pumps do not work so they do not have any water
“Showering is impossible and we have to use a bucket to pull water out of the tanks. The meat and dairy goes off in my fridge and freezers.”
But the effect is worse on larger farms. “Dairy farmers can’t milk their cows, big farms need irrigation and chicken farmers need heating lamps or their chickens die,” said Townsend.
“Even if there is no electricity, you still pay the full fee for the electricity line, R660 for a single phase line (220V) and R2 000 for a three phase line (380V).”
They also pay R2.40 per kilowatt hour used, whereas the town rate is R1. It adds up to between R3 800 and R4 200 per month for “a normal household”, he said.
The farmers also receive unsatisfactory service from Telkom.
“Telkom switched off the old radio system at the end of February and gave us massive cell phones with MTN SIM cards. Our landline runs off the cell phone system. The problem is that the MTN tower was already overloaded, and reception is very bad,” said Bellingham.
Eskom communication manager for the Eastern Cape, Zama Mpondwana, said in response to TotT’s questions that “repeated power outages across Ndlambe were due to storms that battered the area”.
“Eskom advises customers to call in with their reference numbers in order to directly speak to their specific cases if they continue to encounter outage challenges,” he said.