Streets across South Africa are dumped into darkness when the sun sets, with crime and vandalism spiking in these areas.
This was revealed in a recent ENCA expose about the lack of streetlights in many neighbourhoods across South Africa.
ENCA’s Heidi Giokos described the situation in Gauteng as “shocking” with widespread vandalism and theft of electric cables and light bulbs meant for streetlights.
On the busy road to the Lanseria airport, over 80 streetlights were damaged, which caused a lot of darkness on the road.
To fix the problem is not trivial. It costs around R10,000 to R15,000 to repair a single street pole and streetlight.
In one street in Alexandra there were 50 faulty streetlights. The municipality repaired the streetlights, but two days later all of them were vandalised again.
Despite these challenges, Mpho Moerane, MMC for infrastructure and environmental services in the City of Joburg, vowed to ensure that streetlights are installed on every street across the city.
Moerane said women and children are not safe in the dark streets of Joburg at night.
“We have the responsibility to ensure that every street has a streetlight because once we have the streetlights, it reduces crime. It becomes a safer city. We won’t have safer cities unless we have streetlights,” he said.
He called on communities to help the City of Joburg to protect the streetlights against vandalism.
“If you drive around Johannesburg, most of the streetlights are vandalised, actually, they have been cut off, mowed down by criminals for whatever reason,” said Moerane.
“There’s no point in us doing streetlights, and once we have put the streetlights, people come and vandalize them.”
He said the city needs to come up with ways to protect the streetlights and the infrastructure, including the use of technology.
“It is a problem that we are faced with and we need to ensure that City Power invests in technology that ensures we safeguard our infrastructure.”
Commenting on streetlights in Durban, ENCA’s Dasen Thathiah said the situation is equally dire with many streets in the city dogged by inadequate lighting and crime.
Residents have contacted the city to report the problems, but in many cases these reports fell on deaf ears.
Head of electricity at eThekwini Municipality, Maxwell Mthembu said they do fix the streetlights with a turnaround time of between three and seven days.
There is, however, a problem. “Immediately – the same day – after we have fixed a light, it is off again,” he said.
Mthembu laid the blame at the feet of criminals and drug dealers who vandalise the lights to create a safe operating environment for their criminal activities.
He said the lights are vandalised so rapidly that the people who requested them to be fixed do not even know that they have been fixed.
Streetlight vandalism is costing the eThekwini Municipality millions each month. “In one month, it cost us R66 million to fix all the stolen properties,” Mthembu said.
He said last week they fixed the streetlights in a long road in Phoenix which cost them over R1 million. Two days later all the lights were broken again.
Mthembu said the government alone will not be able to solve the problem. “We need help from the communities,” he said.
The problem of streetlight vandalism and streets being dumped into darkness has received widespread coverage over the last year.
Earlier this year, the City of Cape Town said it was struggling with the theft of streetlights in many neighbourhoods, including Strandfontein Road in Mitchells Plain.
Cape Argus reported that more than 100 individual streetlights in Strandfontein Road have been damaged in a short time, costing the city R600,000.
The city also had to spend R4.6 million between July and December last year to replace or repair damaged and stolen infrastructure in Philippi, Muizenberg, and Wynberg.
The City of Ekurhuleni is also struggling to cope with the rising number of faulty and vandalised streetlights.
The Boksburg Advertiser reported in October 2020 they received “scores of complaints from residents that a number of streetlights in their neighbourhoods are not working”.
“Despite being reported, some lights have been dysfunctional for months and others have been like that for years.”
City of Ekurhuleni spokesperson, Themba Gadebe, blamed the lockdown, vandalism, and theft for these problems.
The Citizen reported last month that Primrose Hill residents live in fear because streetlights are not working.
According to these residents, over 200 streetlights are dysfunctional which they say resulted in an increase in theft, burglary, hijackings and poisoning of pets.