African Press Association

City of darkness:Lengthy power cuts leave foreign-owned firms on their knees

Malawi born Anthony Damson a tailor Bree street says he has lost between 500-800 rands a day during power outage did want his face to be revealed says the Johannesburg Mayor should understand that many foreign nationals are self employed posing no competition to locals .-IMAGE: GIFT NDOLWANE

JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – FOREIGN entrepreneurs have been left counting their losses after bearing the brunt of the lengthy power cuts in Johannesburg, the South African city which also the economic hub of the continent.
The foreign entrepreneurs, who mostly run some informal enterprises, dominate the economic scene in the central business district, hence there were allegations of xenophobia by city authorities following what the  business operators said was the delay in reconnecting power supplies.
It is estimated over 90 percent of businesses in the CBD are operated by foreign nationals from around Africa and Asia, who have been lured by prospects of improved living standards and brighter economic prospects in the so-called City of Gold.
Mohammed Hussain, a businessman of Bangladesh origin, who operates Issa Blanket Wholesale at Kruis/Bree streets, said the power cut left his business bleeding profusely.
“I pay monthly rentals of R50 000 (US$3 876) plus tax,” he disclosed.
“So, where am I going to raise this kind of cash when our business is shut for more than a week? The mayor of Johannesburg (Herman Mashaba) is grossly letting us down. Our landlord does not want to be told stories about non-payment,” Hussain lamented.
Other migrants such as Peter Oluta from Nigeria who operates a clothing shop, and Jack Ahmed from Bangladesh told CAJ News their businesses lost between them R500 000 in the past week the power was not available.
“We lost business worth R250 000 because of the blackout,” Ahmed, who runs a wholesale chain store, said.
Oluta concurred.
“Business has drastically gone down here. Our customers use mobile phones to select what they want to buy,” said  Oluta.
Ethiopian businessman, Befikru Misgana, running an enterprise along Small Street, alleged authorities had been slower to restore the power.
“Imagine if this had happened in Soweto, Alexandra or Diepsloot where the majority of South Africans live. They would have restored the electricity faster,” Misgana charged.
Meanwhile, other entrepreneurs said the darkness from the power cuts were compromising the safety of clients .
“As you (journalist) can see, the shop is too dark despite efforts to light it up with candles and LED lights. Women are afraid to enter the shop for fear of being raped or robbed and that is bleeding our business,” said Steven Amarcus, an Indian entrepreneur along President Street.
Malawi-born Anthony Damson, a tailor at Bree Street, said he lost between R500 and R800 daily during the power outage.
“The authorities must understand many foreign nationals are self-employed and pose no competition to locals,” he said, also hinting at allegations City Power had been slower to respond as entrepreneurs of foreign origin dominated the affected area.
The Democratic Alliance, which runs the metropolitan, denied the accusations.
The rampant theft of power cables has been blamed for the power problems in the city.
A joint operation by Metro Police Department (JMPD), City Power engineers and the South Africa Police Services (SAPS) led to the arrest of two scrapyard owners for the possession of copper cables.
“The cable theft had plunged a large portion of our City into darkness. The cables were taken from underground tunnels running under the streets,” Mashaba said.
One of the scrapyard owners also allegedly attempted to bribe City and law enforcement officials with R10 000 in exchange for their silence.
“Unfortunately for the suspect, the officials could not be swayed,” Mashaba said.
In order to combat the criminal syndicates responsible for cable theft, the city plans to introducing a specialised JMPD unit whose exclusive focus will be to target these criminal who deal in in stolen copper cables.
Mashaba said combatting these syndicates requires a professionalised approach of a dedicated unit with the knowledge, skills and networks to be effective.
In another effort to combat cable theft, City Power has also initiated a process of replacing copper conductor cables with aluminum conductor cables.
Criminals target copper cables by digging it up to sell to scrap metal dealers but aluminum has little to no street value.
“We plead for our residents’ continued support and patience. The days of criminals operating with impunity are coming to an end,” Mashaba declared.
– CAJ News