A big cloud of black smoke is whirling up in the air at the back of Zambezi Mall. The mall is not burning down. The source of the black smoke is from one of Spar’s generators. It has been more than two months since the mall has been left in the dark. Literally.
The owners of Zambesi Mall are currently being liquidated, because they owe approximately R11,6 million allegedly to the municipality for electricity. The municipality decided to shut the electricity down on the 15th of February and nothing has been done since.
According to Jan Boshoff, the DA ward councillor, the municipality says they can’t help the tenants because of a certain bylaw. “The bylaw states that a contract can only be held between the owner of the shopping centre and themselves. But now, the owners are being liquidated. The municipality states they can’t enter into a contract with the tenants, because the bylaw that already exists, prohibits it.”
“Usually the municipality and owner enter a contract. The tenants get their power from the owner. The tenants pay the owner and it is the owner’s responsibility to pay the municipality. But somehow, this didn’t happen,” says Boshoff.
Boshoff is concerned about the negative impact it has on the tenants and their workers. “If Zambezi Mall should close, these people will lose their livelihood. A lot of the workers at the Zambesi Superspar live in townships nearby.”
Most of the tenants closed up shop and moved away. Those who have stayed behind had to find their own means of survival.
Four shops decided to share a generator. The owner of the Zambezi hair studio, Adéle de Bruyn, had to get help from her husband (who is an electrician) to install the generator. They had to buy a R52 000 generator (20 KWA) at their own expense. The hair studio shares the generator with The Brooklyn Biltong, Eluri Properties and Excellent Cell & Sound shops. The four shops share the running expenses at R250 per day.
“The generator isn’t supposed to be working [all day long] every day. The alternator broke and we had to fix it,” says De Bruyn.
At first they had nine generators that stood before the shops, but it created such a noise that it became impossible to help their customers. “It also scared our customers away,” says Willie Lubbe, owner of Eluri Properties.
“The electrical costs has increased from R1000 per month to R6000 per month,” says Lubbe. He is even open to getting pre-paid electricity meters.
Boshoff and the tenants has sent a petition to the municipality voicing their concerns. In this they urged the Executive Mayor to urgently intervene and arrange for the provision of pre-paid electricity meters.
Zambezi Mall has become a ghost town especially at night, because the lights cannot function without electricity. The tenants are scared for their safety when they have to shut up every night and walk to their cars. The customers don’t come at night any more.
“This place is a ghost town. We are afraid of our own safety. The alarms can’t work without power. Anybody can come here and break in,” says De Bruyn.
“I am a mother of two young children. I work until five, go pick up my children and then I have to hang around the shops until dark just so I can switch the generator off.”
“The worst part of it is, our customers are blaming us. I have to keep running around, making sure the generator has diesel to work; I have to keep the other three shops happy. And I’m losing customers because of it. Why do I even have a business? Right now it feels like I’m doing the municipality’s work for them,” says De Bruyn.
“I am so fed up about this whole situation. It has been two months. There were three meetings, but nothing ever happens. No one knows what is going on. We keep hearing rumours.”
The only way Boshoff sees a way out of this is to pressure the municipality to review and change the current supply bylaws so it can also accommodate the tenants.
In Chapter 2 of the “Standard electricity supply by-law” regulation 3 states:
“If, in respect of any premises, an applicant, occupier or consumer is not the registered owner of the premises, an agreement in writing between the owner of the premises and the consumer for the rendering of a connection is required beforehand. The agreement reached binds both the consumer and the owner of the premises.”