Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba has threatened to go to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) over his plea to power utility Eskom to restore electricity to parts of Soweto.
This comes after Eskom said it would not repair infrastructure in areas where there are high levels of non-payment, especially in Soweto.
Soweto alone owes Eskom more than R17bn in unpaid electricity bills, it has previously been reported.
Several parts of the township are in the dark after Eskom refused to replace malfunctioning infrastructure, forcing many residents to embark on sporadic protests.
On Tuesday, Mashaba said it was disappointing that, despite a productive meeting with Eskom officials in the province, the utility failed to honour a request for an urgent meeting to discuss residents' concerns about Eskom's credit control measures.
"Following my engagement with Eskom's Gauteng officials on Monday, a meeting was to be secured to address the urgent needs of residents – given the complex nature of the issues discussed between myself and Eskom’s operational team.
"This morning (Tuesday), I had a lengthy discussion with the CEO of Eskom who appeared to question the urgency behind this matter.
"Presently, Eskom has resolved not to maintain or repair their infrastructure in areas where there are high levels of non-payment of Eskom accounts. The effect is to institute a blanket punishment against even paying residents, and taken to its logical conclusion, is a violation of residents' rights as well as a gross abuse of power," he said.
The mayor said while the City of Johannesburg did not usually interfere in Eskom's affairs, given the circumstances, he felt compelled to enter the fray on residents' behalf.
"The City has to protect the interests of residents, prevent the destruction of our infrastructure during protests regarding this matter and preserve the limited Johannesburg Metro Police Department capacity, which is currently being directed towards managing said protest action.
"Quite simply, Eskom has a legal obligation to provide electricity to those residents who duly honour their financial obligations to the utility," he said.
Right to recoup expenses from non-paying customers
Mashaba said Eskom had every right to recoup expenses from non-paying customers and that it must be done fairly.
He said the power utility faced financial troubles that extended far beyond Soweto.
"…years of corruption and maladministration have resulted in the mass looting of the power utility resulting in close to R500m in reported debt."
Mashaba said he would write to Eskom to urgently find out when the promised engagement could take place.
"Should Eskom fail to heed my request, I will have no choice but to institute urgent dispute resolution proceedings with the National Energy Regulator of South Africa, in terms of Section 4(1)(c)(i) of the Electricity Act, No. 41 of 1987 ("the Act"), between the City (as a consumer as defined in the act, as well as on behalf on the affected residents of the City) and Eskom," Mashaba threatened in a statement.
Last week, Eskom complained that it was experiencing an increasing number of repeated equipment failures, in some areas, especially in Gauteng.
Eskom said the increase was primarily due to illegal connections, leading to overloading which resulted in the failure of transformers and mini-substations. This was exacerbated by meter tampering, electricity theft and vandalism of infrastructure.
"Increased equipment failure has a significant negative impact on our operations, finances and safety of our employees and the public. Eskom has taken a decision that it will not be restoring power to areas that have repeated failures due to illegal connections, meter tampering and bypassing," it said in a statement.
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