Judge to determine urgency of bid to stop Eskom cutting power

Pretoria - Judge Hans Fabricius will reveal on Wednesday whether AfriForum's High Court application is urgent after it approached the court on Tuesday to block Eskom from cutting power to eight municipalities this week.

The affected municipalities include Thembelihle (Northern Cape), Moqhaka (Free State), Mailonyana (Free State), Nkentoana (Free State), Mantsopa (Free State), Tokologo (Free State), Nala (Free State) and Dihlabeng (Free State).

Fabricius made the decision after the lobby group's urgent application at the High Court in Pretoria was heard on Tuesday following Eskom’s notice to cut the lights in eight municipalities in the Free State and Northern Cape provinces this Thursday.

Responding to the postponement, acting Eskom CEO Matshela Koko tweeted on Tuesday that Eskom is confident of reducing municipal debt. Eskom is opposing the application.

In its application, AfriForum said that law-abiding ratepayers should not be punished for their municipalities’ failures to pay Eskom its outstanding funds.

“Obviously we have got lots of sympathy for Eskom in their efforts to collect their arrears, but I think the practice of punishing the innocent tax-paying citizens for the wrongs of their municipalities ... is not fair and needs to be addressed in some other way,” AfriForum’s legal representative Willie Spies told reporters outside court.

AfriForum had earlier argued that its case is urgent, is in the interest of the public, and that the decision should be put on hold until a separate matter challenging the parastatal’s power to make such a decision is heard in March.

“Our experience is that a whole range of residents from these municipalities are going to suffer irreparable harm if they are being punished for the wrongs of their municipal administrations,” Spies said.

“And for that reason we believe that there are other mechanisms which Eskom could use to collect rates from municipalities.”

AfriForum brought a similar, yet separate matter against Eskom, which is due to be heard in March.

In the matter, the organisation seeks to challenge Eskom’s power to practice the discontinuation of power supply to municipalities.

Eskom had argued earlier that the matter was not urgent because it had published a notice of its intent to cut supply to the said municipalities on November 17 and that the organisation waited until December 29 to file an interdict.

This gave Eskom a “very restricted timeline” to respond.

However, according to Spies, upon publishing the notice, Eskom had invited stakeholders to make representations on why they should not discontinue.

AfriForum did so, arguing that “there’s a pending court case in March this year", Spies said.

"Please hold the discontinuation over until the court has had its final say,” Spies said.

“Eskom received the correspondence and decided to carry on with it despite the representations that were made.

“It is for that simple reason that we came to court, to ask the court to assist those residents in ensuring that at least until the matter is heard in March, they are being protected in some other way,” Spies said.

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