Poor to take on city, Eskom

2016-07-27 12:12
Eskom continues to cut the use of diesel for OCGTs, which is one of the most expensive ways to generate power.

Eskom continues to cut the use of diesel for OCGTs, which is one of the most expensive ways to generate power.

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Pietermaritzburg - A group of poor, elderly women are taking on Msunduzi Municipality and Eskom in the Pietermaritzburg high court tomorrow, fighting for free basic electricity.

The Pietermaritzburg women, who launched the Electricity Action Group (EAG), have also added the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa), minister of Energy, and director-general for the Department of Energy to their case.

EAG spokesperson Bonginkosi Sibisi said this was the first public interest case in the country to clarify the rights of citizens to access free basic electricity.

“It will test the failure of Msunduzi Municipality and Eskom to provide free basic electricity to poor families who access electricity through a prepaid meter on the basis of being discriminatory, unlawful and unconstitutional,” Sibisi said.

The EAG is represented by the Legal Resources Centre and the case brings to a close a six-year battle by the group.

Sibisi said for 13 years the municipality had a Free Basic Electricity Policy introduced to them by the national government to assist poor families to afford electricity.

He said local government was mandated to deliver on the policy and the funding was provided through the Equitable Share.

“In 2014/15 Msunduzi Municipality got R373 million from National Treasury to pay for free basic services. The municipal spend on electricity for that year was R1 776 902. Msunduzi Municipality gives 70 kWh (R96,41) of free basic electricity to a few families with a credit meter. It does not give free basic electricity to the 68 000 families with a prepaid meter,” he said, adding that those who need free basic electricity are the most excluded.

The EAG claims the municipality has “ignored” the policy and the decision has pushed tens of thousands of families deeper into debt.

“It has forced them to put their families’ lives at risk by using unsafe sources of energy to cook food, keep the lights on, and their families warm and secure,” he said.

By choosing not to follow the policy, the EAG said, the municipality has “excluded and discriminated” against poor families who were not given a choice to have a prepaid meter.

“Nobody should be denied access to services because they cannot afford to pay for them. Nobody should be forced to choose between which basic need must be cut to make sure they have another basic need. Our dignity cannot be reduced to money,” Sibisi said.

The matter is set down for tomorrow at the high court.

• kailene.pillay@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  electricity
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