Pensioners protest charges

2010-10-13 00:00

YOU’RE never too old to exercise your rights as a citizen. This is what more than a hundred pensioners at Allison Home in Burger Street, Pietermaritzburg, did last week when they signed a petition protesting their exorbitant electricity bills.

Leading the campaign is feisty fellow resident Molly Rossouw, who not only organised the petition, but also wrote to Parliament. She received a reply from Justice Minister Jeff Radebe on Friday. He informed her that he would look into her complaint and said he has sent a copy of her letter to the Social Development Minister.

Rossouw’s complaint and the gist of the petition is that while the government is giving with one hand it is taking away with the other. She said exorbitant electricity costs are eating into old-age pensions of R1 080, leaving little or no money for food.

This is not the first time Rossouw has written to Parliament. A previous letter to then minister of finance Trevor Manuel also highlighted how municipal charges eat into pensions.

Manuel advised her to apply to the local municipality for indigent status. But at the time Msunduzi Municipality had not finalised its policy. Rossouw persevered and months later she received a phone call from a staff member she had befriended who asked if she was sitting down and ready for good news. She was told her indigent status had been approved and she would qualify for the various rebates the council offers.

All went well until September when Rossouw and residents at Allison Home received their utility bills.

Not only did they have to pay the hefty Eskom increases, but they also found that the cost per unit has escalated. They soon discovered that they were to pay 70 cents per unit for electricity compared to domestic users who pay about 40 cents per unit. Residents classified indigent are exempt from paying refuse and sewerage charges. The exemption remained, but their electricity cost went up from 31,273 per unit to 70,85 per unit — an increase of 126%.

With such an increase they found that despite their best efforts to use electricity frugally, a sizeable chunk of their pensions, normally used to buy food, have to go towards electricity.

Rossouw says that to survive she reads her meter every day and watches every unit. “I live on my own and I try not to cook, eating salads, bread and fruit. This is how I save, but what about pensioners with families? How are they coping?”

She handed the petition to ward councillor Peter Green, asking him to take it to the council and to forward the petition to Parliament.

Green says the council has changed its indigent policy to a lifeline policy and the higher unit charged to indigents is to discourage abuse of the system. Some families have been putting their bills under the name of a pensioner.

The manager of Allison Home, Bill Sutherland, said the municipality should have explained its new lifeline policy.

A petition protesting the higher electricity cost per unit to the poor is also being circulated by the Msunduzi Rates Forum.


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