Some Soweto residents feel entitled to free lights

By Drum Digital
14 May 2015

Some of Soweto's residents feel entitled to free electricity as it was one of the things promised to them when the country gained democracy in 1994.

Johannesburg - Some of Soweto's residents feel entitled to free electricity as it was one of the things promised to them when the country gained democracy in 1994, a local told News24.

The man, who refused to be named, said the late former president Nelson Mandela's promise of a better South Africa with free education, free electricity, free water and sanitation had not been realised. "It's sad he died without having had implemented those things," the man told News24 on Wednesday.

He was speaking just days after the area of Orlando in Soweto had erupted in protests, with locals rejecting Eskom's move to install prepaid electricity meters in the area.

Many of the locals have demanded a flat rate, saying the proposed prepaid system will not work.

One unemployed woman who owns a house in Orlando, Soweto, admitted to not paying the monthly bills which she received.

‘I don’t pay’

“I don't want to lie. I don't pay every month because it seems like when you pay every month, it's the more money they demand," she said.

She did not however, want the prepaid meter to be installed in her yard.

"Those who have them already are complaining of how expensive they are. Eskom never communicated with us before and they never taught us how the system works," said the woman.

She explained that they had heard that Eskom would scrap whatever existing bill each household had if the homeowner agreed to have a prepaid meter installed.

"While the previous bill was meant to be scrapped, the prepaid doesn't last.  Money loaded on to it is finished quickly and this has made people think that maybe we are still indirectly be paying for the old debt," the woman said.

News24 caught up with another Orlando resident as she walked home from work.

She told News24 that unlike many of her neighbours, she paid her dues to Eskom.

'Unreasonable'

"Quite a lot of people are not paying and it's been years now," the woman said.

She personally had no problem with the proposed system if Eskom would be transparent about the process.

"I honestly think Soweto people are being unreasonable by demanding this flat rate of R400. What if people in the suburbs wanted the same thing? It would never work," she said.

"We have backrooms and shacks in the yards causing the electricity prices to go very high.  A flat rate is impossible," she said.

News24 saw quite a few yards around Soweto which had numerous shacks erected in one yard. Some of the shiny, silver shacks had DSTV decoders mounted on them.

Meanwhile, a young man waiting for his car to be washed in Vilakazi Street said he understood why many house owners agreed to have shacks and rooms erected and rented out to other families on their yards.

"Unemployment is very high and you also find that we are overpopulated," said the man.

"Many people are living in backrooms. You find a person who rents out the rest of his yard by building shacks and what not. They end up using a lot of electricity and that person [the house owner] cannot afford electricity but only accepts money from the renters because that is how he makes a living."

Eskom criticism

He also called for a flat rate but criticised Eskom for allegedly installing the meter boxes on the sly. "When they took out the old electrical boxes outside the yards and installed the new ones they said they were doing electrical upgrades. We were told to sign documents without knowing what we were signing for," he said.

While Eskom has been implementing rolling blackouts, Soweto residents claim to have been hardest hit by the power outages. Some say the township residents are being punished for rebelling against the new meter system.

A march led by the African National Congress against the power cuts was to be held in Soweto on Thursday.

News24

Naledi Shange

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