Businesses and residents in the Raymond Mhlaba, Amahlathi and Sundays River Local Municipalities are facing the reality of not having electricity, even though they have paid for the service, because their municipalities have failed to pay Eskom.
Eskom has recently published notices for planned power disruptions that will cripple the already failing Eastern Cape economy. Businesses will be forced to close their doors and thousands of jobs stand to be lost.
In the notices, Eskom informed the three municipalities that they had taken the decision to proceed with the contemplated interruption of bulk electricity supply. This was because the municipalities had not reached a payment agreement with the power utility for outstanding debt.
The interruptions for Raymond Mhlaba, which is said to owe Eskom over R148 million, and whose debt is growing by over R4 million a month, is scheduled to begin from the 6th of December. Both Amahlathi, which owes over R8 million, and Sundays River, which owes over R3 million, are scheduled to begin from the 7th of January.
The first week seeing an interruption of supply between 06:00 to 09:00 and again between 17:00 and 20:30 from Monday to Friday and then again between 06:30 and 12:00 and again from 15:00 to 17:00 over the weekend.
Thereafter the power disruptions are expected to ramp up, with the municipalities being without power from 06:00 to 20:00 daily.
It is fundamentally unfair to punish the residents of these municipalities for the failures of the administration. The question of how the debt was allowed to escalate into tens of millions also has to be asked.
It is also worth noting the watershed judgment against Eskom and the eMalahleni Municipality in the Pretoria High Court earlier this year. Under the judgment Eskom (as an organ of state) is not allowed to interrupt electricity supply to a delinquent municipality (also an organ of state) until it has exhausted all remedies contained in sections 41 and 42 of the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act, No 13 of 2005.
These looming electricity cuts are a clear example of failing local municipalities who have no regard for the people they are meant to serve.
I have written to the MEC for Co-operative Governance, Xolile Nqatha, asking for his urgent intervention in this regard, to prevent the economy and the people of the Eastern Cape being negatively affected.
Local municipal officials need to be held to account for the misuse of public funds. A bailout from provincial government is also not the answer. Funds collected for electricity need to be ringfenced to ensure that sufficient funding is available to pay Eskom.
Instead of punishing residents who have already paid for electricity, Eskom should be going after the officials who failed to pay the money over.