Criminality blamed for spike in attacks against municipal workers

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Criminality has been blamed for the spike in attacks against municipal workers in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni. Since the beginning of the year technicians have been held at gunpoint, robbed of cell phones, laptops, toolboxes, hijacked and injured to the point of hospitalisation.

It’s led to authorities increasing security for technicians who are on a call out to restore disrupted municipal services. Joburg’s inner city, Alexandra, Lenasia, Roodepoort and Soshanguve have been identified as the most dangerous areas for public technicians to work in.

Municipal workers are often targeted by either criminals or frustrated community members when they respond to calls.

“We’ve had many disturbing incidents where our teams are attacked by the residents they are meant to serve and this is worrying because it means we are going to be scaling down on some of the services we are supposed to provide. In fact we’ve got instances where some areas are not attended to after outages due to attacks to some of our staff especially at night, places like Alex, Jeppestown, Marshalltown and parts of Lenasia and Soweto,” says Isaac Mangena, Joburg City Power spokesperson.

Even the cities of Tshwane and Ekurhuleni are under siege.

“We have observed a spike in attacks on our colleagues. The primary problem is criminality, and thugs see them as soft targets because they go there in marked vehicles to go and fix water leaks, electricity cables and they have to go out of the cars,” says Selby Bokaba, City of Tshwane spokesperson.

It has led to residents in these hot spots not getting services as technicians are simply too scared to go into those areas without security escorts.

“That impacts on the turnaround time because it means they have to wait for police to be available to escort them to attend to those service interruptions. And you find that communities become frustrated and vent their anger out on our colleagues sometimes they hold them hostage,” Bokaba adds.

Cases of theft and intimidation have been opened but City Power says having armed escorts is not realistic, nor a long term solution.

“I think it’s not ideal to have the police escorting our teams at any given time. We are dealing with thousands of outage calls, and it means if we have to attach this response team to them then we need 2000 JMPD cars, 4000 SAPS cars and that doesn’t make sense at all,” Mangena adds.

They are appealing to communities to respect the staff.

“It is frustrating and traumatic for our colleagues to go out and restore services in those areas only to fall prey to thugs and criminals,” Bokaba explains.

It seems the frequency of attacks has intensified in the past six months. With the growing trend of municipal workers being targeted and attacked, authorities are concerned and have roped in the policing sector to put in much needed security plans to ensure the safety of workers and affected communities.