SCORES of holidaymakers, who traditionally pump millions of rands into the Jeffreys Bay economy, have deserted the Eastern Cape tourism mecca after three days of power outages.
The ensuing chaos saw people struggle to find petrol, shops close their doors, water shortages in parts of the town and sewage spills on the beaches.
Adding insult to injury, municipal phone lines were down, leaving townsfolk and tourists with no way of knowing when the situation would be resolved.
Compounding the town’s woes, the power failures caused most of the small businesses to shut their doors or scale down their services.
With most card machines down, ATMs were emptying fast by yesterday morning and long queues were forming at garages as tourists left for home.
Jeffreys Bay Tourism director Brenton Williams said tourists were leaving town at an alarming rate.
He estimated that real damage to the town’s economy and the future impact to the image of the popular beach destination could run into millions of rands.
“We cannot blame the tourists and holidaymakers. Some haven’t had a hot shower for two days,” he said.
“These are our prime trading days for the year. It is the busiest time for all of our small businesses. They do not have generators and had to close their doors for the entire weekend.
“The municipality was working on a skeleton staff as well, compounding the problem.
“I don’t think the staff knew how to handle the problem.”
Some holidaymakers who had been planning to travel to the popular resort said they were reconsidering their plans.
“We are booked to leave for Jeffreys Bay in three days’ time,” Denise Coetzee from Kimberley said. “It seems we should rather steer away.”
The drama started on Saturday when the power went off at 11am.
According to municipal spokeswoman Laura-Leigh Randall, a 9m cross-arm keeping up major supply lines burnt down.
“This was in the bushes on the Hankey-Humansdorp road and very hard to reach,” she said.
Initial expectations were that the power failure would not last longer than three hours.
But at 5pm, Randall said the damage was more extensive than initially thought and repairs were still ongoing.
“The vehicles that the repair crew travelled in got stuck.
“Then they realised the problem area was so hard to reach that a crane had to come from Uitenhage.
“But then the crane got stuck and we had to send more vehicles to assist,” she said.
Repairs were also delayed when a farmer over whose land they could take a short cut, refused them access.
By Sunday morning, Jeffreys Bay, Aston Bay and Paradise Beach still had no power.
Wavecrest residents were also warned to use water sparingly as no water could be pumped from the boreholes due to the power cut.
The power was eventually restored late on Sunday afternoon – only to go off again at 7am yesterday for several hours.
The last area to have the power switched back on – at 7pm last night – was Paradise Beach.
Williams said as a result of the power cuts, there were sewage spills at Kabeljous and Dirkie’s beaches.
Joe Ferreira, from the Dolphin Beach Entertainment Park, said the park had to rent a big generator to keep the business going.
“What happened is a great pity because I can guarantee that the holidaymakers won’t come back.”
A manager at the popular Viswijf Restaurant, who asked not to be named, said the eatery was throwing bags of food away.
“We have a generator but we cannot run all our refrigerators on it. Also, food takes three times longer to cook on gas.
“And people can’t pay by card as our lines are down. I can tell you from my conversation with our clients that nobody is coming back to Jeffreys Bay next year.”
Garth Ford from the Jeffreys Bay Residents’ Association said: “People are losing a lot of food. I know of one man who put his whole fridge on a bakkie to take it to Humansdorp to plug it in but when he arrived the power was off there as well.
“The tourists are leaving and I am sure they are not coming back.
“What we would like to know is why did we allow the development of a whole wind farm right on our doorstep and still we have these long power failures,” he said.
DA National Council of Provinces member for the Eastern Cape, Elza van Lingen, said she was not sure if Jeffreys Bay’s image would ever recover.
“When tourists leave because there is bad weather, there is nothing we can do.”
“But if they leave because there is no power, it is the municipality’s fault.
“Unfortunately, we know that when they want to save money, the first place they cut is the maintenance budget. It is an absolute disgrace. The municipality should not allow key officials to go on holiday at this time of year.” Van Lingen said she had proposed a special maintenance campaign to get ready for the festive season earlier in the year but nobody had even bothered to reply to her.
Power utility Eskom said yesterday the Kouga Municipality had experienced three different faults on their 66kV line since Saturday.
It later said the 66kV line from the municipality “fell on” the 22kV line serving Eskom clients in Cape St Francis and Humansdorp causing further power outages.
Randall said it was not true that officials had taken the phones off the hook to avoid irate callers.
“There is a technical problem with our 24-hour lines. When the line is engaged it does not give an engaged tone. It sounds like it is ringing.”
She said extra trucks and chemicals were brought into town yesterday to clean up the sewage spills on the beaches.
“This was something out of the ordinary. Our power infrastructure is being maintained on a regular basis.
“The Kouga Municipality apologises to residents and holidaymakers for the inconvenience.”
Aston Bay businesswoman Annchen Loots, who rents out several homes at Houtbosch Bay, said apart from a brief period on Sunday night they had no electricity for three days.
“It is an absolute nightmare. I had three families booking in on Sunday and had to put their food in my own freezer that was still a little cold. People are very unhappy.”
Visitor Lloyd Oldham said: “I sensed an air of panic at the weekend as people realised the situation was not going to be resolved quickly.
“At one of the petrol stations there was utter chaos on Sunday morning.”
Roodepoort businesswoman Christina Mudau expressed her frustration on Facebook. “It is my first visit to Jeffreys Bay with my kids and I now feel like going back to Johannesburg!”
Sandra Diedericks from Centurion said that after going to Aston Bay on holiday for the past 26 years, they were seriously considering selling their beach house.
“We pay our utility bill every month and they can’t give us basic services for three weeks of the year,” she said.
“Since this morning, you could see people from Gauteng, Limpopo, North West and the Free State leaving. These are people who always stay until early January.”
She said there were no generators or gas stoves left for sale in the town yesterday. – Estelle Ellis