City’s murky electricity plan

2017-03-17 09:50
Gogo Faith Mofokeng is one of thousands of prepaid electricity users in Msunduzi who have had 40% deducted from every token they buy. It is believed the deducted amount goes toward their unpaid municipal accounts but Mofokeng said she has not been given any proof showing the money is helping to reduce her arrears.

Gogo Faith Mofokeng is one of thousands of prepaid electricity users in Msunduzi who have had 40% deducted from every token they buy. It is believed the deducted amount goes toward their unpaid municipal accounts but Mofokeng said she has not been given any proof showing the money is helping to reduce her arrears. (Ian Carbutt)

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Gogo Faith Mofokeng, who often only has R10 for a prepaid electricity token, only sees a portion of that money light up her home.

The 74-year-old Imbali resident has 40% deducted from every prepaid electricity token she buys.

She is one of 25 000 people on prepaid electricity, but every month without fail a large percentage is deducted from every token she buys.

If Mofokeng buys electricity for R30 there is a deduction of R12, leaving her and her family with only 13,1kWh — which lasts for less than a day.

Local civic organisations say the problem is widespread and they are dealing with many complaints about the lack of transparency in the city’s billing system.

Msunduzi Municipality claims the deduction is part of the municipality’s debt collection in respect of customers whose accounts are in arrears. But Mofokeng said she has yet to see valid proof that her account is even being credited with the money that is deducted from her prepaid electricity.

Mofokeng said she has “learned to survive” with the deductions, but is “angry” at the municipality for not being able to show her how much she has already paid toward her account and how much more she has to pay.

Mofokeng and her four grandchildren live in a small house made of concrete blocks in Crossing in Imbali and she makes a living making teddybears and selling them in Raisethorpe.

This income and her pension is what the family of five survive on.

“I buy electricity only for lights so that my grandchildren can study but I do not use the electricity card for cooking or anything else,” she said.

She buys paraffin or wood to cook outside as she cannot afford to put her stove on.

When she tried to query the deductions with the municipality, she was told that the amount was going toward her water account, which was in arrears.

“I asked them to show me how much I have paid but they could not do so as I do not receive an account. It is all so strange. I left there without any help or explanation,” she said.

Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the deduction was only applicable to those whose accounts were in arrears and is managed by “receipting the 40% deduction to the relevant account”.

She told The Witness that a statement was sent every month to residents and it should reflect how much has been paid toward their arrears. However, Mofokeng does not receive a monthly statement. “The customer can go to the credit control section and see the acting credit control manager,” Mafumbatha advised those who are not receiving statements or are being incorrectly deducted.

Although Mofokeng said she had been to the municipality for assistance, she said she still had no choice but to buy the prepaid electricity tokens knowing that 40% would be deducted.

“Where is the money going to if it is not reducing our arrears? No one can explain to us and I am not the only one struggling,” she said.

The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa) said it was irresponsible of the municipality not to be able to show residents what they were paying for and how much they owed.

“This deduction is being applied blindly and the fact that Gogo Faith has arrears is not legitimate as she was supposed to be receiving free basic services. She lives in a rural area of the municipality and she is indigent,” said Julie Smith from Pacsa.

Smith accused the municipality of also not revealing how it decided on a 40% deduction rate.

“There is just no transparency with the municipality,” Smith said.

Mafumbatha said the municipality settled on a 40% deduction according to the terms of the approved credit control and debt collection policy.

The Electricity Action Group (EAG) said it was “particularly distasteful” that the municipality believed the residents owed them money.

“The arrears are caused by the municipality who have not implemented the free basic services consistently and people like Gogo Faith have to suffer,” said spokesperson Bonginkosi Sibisi said.

Read more on:    msunduzi municipality  |  pietermaritzburg

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