Houses in Pietermaritzburg shock residents

Gogo Maria Lombo's wirewall house on the right where electrical appliances cannot be used for fear of electric shock. Photo by Ngcebo Myaluza

The Msunduzi Municipality has recognised the problem of ‘wirewall houses’ delivering electric shocks to their occupants. A Wirewall Rectification Programme started in 2011 did not reach Imbali Unit 18 and it doesn’t look like they have a plan to assist the 70 households affected.

Imbali, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

Residents of Imbali Unit 18 in Pietermaritzburg say they won’t be spared the bitter winter as they cannot use electric appliances. About 70 households are unable to switch on stoves, kettles and heaters without experiencing an electric shock.

The houses they live in were built in 1985 and are known as wirewall homes because of the wires inside their concrete walls. Most residents started renting the houses before 1994 when the houses belonged to the old government.

The affected residents said they have appealed to the municipality for assistance. A community leader, Sa Zuma, said the municipality has not responded to them. Their last engagement with the authorities was in April where, he added, it was promised that municipal officials would contact them. “We are still waiting for the municipality’s response on the matter,” said Zuma.

Among the affected residents is 70-year-old Maria Lombo. She said she is scared to use any electrical appliance in her house. She has been living in Imbali for decades over which time the electrocution problem has gotten worse.

“After Nelson Mandela was released from jail we were given the houses. We were renting them in the 80s. At the time they were two rooms. It was a bedroom and a kitchen. After 1990, we were told to own them. Many of us have renovated the houses. The problem started when we had electricity. One cannot lean on the wall. There are electric reactions. If one has a stove, it should not be in contact with the wall. Any item leaned on the wall is a problem. Each year it becomes worse,” she said.

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Lombo lives with her grandson. She said when he is not around, she waits for him. “I can’t switch on any item in his absence. I’m scared,” said Lombo.

In 2011 the Msunduzi municipality introduced a Wirewall Rectification Program and wirewall home in some phases in Pietermaritzburg were demolished and replaced. Imbali Unit 18 residents were not part of the programme.

Msunduzi municipal spokesperson, Thobeka Mafumbatha said the municipality is aware of the problem. She, however, made it clear that the residents’ homes are not Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses and that they are privately owned. The municipality has therefore deferred to the Department of Human Settlements to assist affected residents.

“We have informed them that we will look at the policy with an intention to assist. However they will not get their own project. We can only add them at a later stage of the existing Wirewall Rectification Programme. The current program has funding issues. When good progress has been made on the ground we can include the Unit 18 people in the programme,” said Mafumbatha.

Nomsa Msimang said she is gripped by fear. I’m waiting for disaster to happen, she said. She described seeing her 13-year old-daughter get electrocuted. “She was about to make me a cup of tea. She plugged the kettle and received an electric shock. That is when I realised we have a problem. In my home, we are electrocuted by touching the doors and windows. Its winter but we can’t use heaters. It’s scary to touch any appliance. We are appealing to the municipality to assist. We can’t be living like this. I don’t know if they want someone to die from being electrocuted,” said Msimang.

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