Residents in Johannesburg’s Kliptown area were outraged to find their electricity supplies abruptly cut off on Tuesday, May 7.  A team of police officers and representatives from local rail and electricity companies removed power cables residents had illegally installed to redirect electricity to their community. Not prepared to go through the winter without electric lights and heating, they hit the streets to chase the unwelcome guests out of their neighbourhood.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, protesters hurled stones, burnt tyres and threw rubbish on the railway line which separates the prosperous from the less developed part of Kliptown. Residents living in the poorer settlements had hooked up cables to tap in to the electricity network provided by City Power Johannesburg (CPJ) for residents on the other side of the railtrack and the train company, Metrorail. 
Residents complain the government is not building enough housing connected to water and electricity supplies, leaving them no choice but to siphon off electricity from other sources.
CPJ told France 24 that tapping into electricity supplies causes power cuts for people and companies who pay for electricity, affecting businesses and disrupting train services. They also say illegal wiring is dangerous: in March this year, two children were electrocuted and died after stepping onto illegal connections in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township.
It is not the first, nor is it likely to be the last time illegal electricity cables are removed from neighbourhoods not officially connected to the electricity network. CPJ says it had already removed illegal cables in Kliptown eight months ago and that it carries out cable removing operations every month across Johannesburg, only to find residents quickly find new cables and reconnect.
 Photo of burning tyres and police officers carrying rubber bullet guns. Photo taken by Thabo Mbhele on Tuesday May 7

“The police shot a real bullet in my direction”

Thabo Mbhele is a 21-year-old student who has lived in Kliptown all his life. He took photos and filmed the protests, but did not take part himself.
I was running away from the police, and then they shot a real bullet in my direction. I don’t know why they shot it at me, I was on my own, but maybe they thought I was a protester. I know what I saw, I know it was a real bullet but I know the police will deny it [Editor’s note: the local Guateng Police Service told France 24 police and Metrorail security guards used rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, but they had not used live fire. They say they are investigating allegations by Metrorail that their security guards heard live shots fired from the protesters].
Police officers with rubber bullet gun. Photo taken by Thabo Mbhele, Tuesday May 7
Winter has just started and it’s cold. You can’t just cut the power during winter. People live in shacks! No community deserves to live without electricity. The government is doing nothing, plans are always ‘in the pipeline’, and housing projects are ‘soon to be implemented’. The government has been saying this for years but nothing has happened. So the people decided to go take electricity themselves. They didn’t know the police were coming, they weren’t notified [Editor’s note: France 24 contacted CPJ, who denied the residents were not warned].
We have no electricity now so we’re using paraffin or gas stoves for both cooking and boiling water for bathing. Last night I had to buy candles so I could study. To make heat, we make braziers out of empty metal paint tins by drilling holes in them and putting coal and wood inside.
About six or seven years ago people started getting electricity by fixing up wires. Before, only two places had electricity: the youth centre ‘SKY’ and a small community centre ran by nuns (Editor’s note: both buildings were legally connected to the electricity network). Now almost everyone has electricity from the illegal wires, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a house which doesn’t have electricity. People have fridges, microwaves and colour TVs, without electricity you could only have a black and white TV, that would be powered by a car battery.
The protests stopped on Wednesday because people are now looking for new wires so they can reconnect the electricity. There’s no point protesting now, people want solutions. In no more than a week, people will have electricity back. There’s no way we’ll go through even half the winter without electricity.
Protesters in Kliptown, photo taken by Thabo Mbhele on Tuesday May 7
This article was written in collaboration with France 24 journalist, Claire Williams (@clairewf24)