Soweto residents want flat electricity rate but use energy hungry appliances

Angry protesters in Orlando West, Soweto, barricaded roads with rocks and other objects during a protest earlier this week. Picture: Gys Visser/Foto24
Angry protesters in Orlando West, Soweto, barricaded roads with rocks and other objects during a protest earlier this week. Picture: Gys Visser/Foto24

According to Stats SA, many disgruntled residents in Orlando West, Soweto, who want to pay a flat rate for electricity are using appliances that consume a lot of electricity.

Statistics collated by Wazimap – an online tool that uses census information to measure living standards in South Africa – show that at least 2 524 households in Orlando West use electric stoves, washing machines and vacuum cleaners, which are all known for their high consumption of electricity.

There are about 5 000 households in Orlando West and, according to Stats SA, 99% of them are connected to electricity, a connection rate that is 10% higher than in the rest of Gauteng.

Despite their relatively heavy use of electricity, residents of the township took to the streets this past week demanding a R400 monthly flat rate. They object to the installation of prepaid meters by Eskom, which the utility forced on them in February in a bid to clamp down on illegal connections.

Angry protesters barricaded roads with rocks and other objects, and threatened to burn down Nelson Mandela’s former home on Vilakazi Street, as well as local eatery Sakhumzi, a popular spot with tourists.

The owner of the restaurant, Sakhumzi Maqubela, said the crowd attempted to set fire to his restaurant twice this past week. “I got a call alerting me to a group of people who were breaking wooden tables outside the restaurant with the aim of starting a fire. I called my security guard, who confirmed some protesters were planning to burn the restaurant building so that Eskom can take them seriously. We called the police, who had to use rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, and that’s how my restaurant was saved.”

Defiant residents vowed to continue protesting against the “costly” prepaid electricity meters, saying they would not back down until Eskom found a solution.

“We are going back to the streets and it won’t stop until Eskom gets off its high horse and engages further with the intention of finding a solution to our problem. At the moment, Eskom is not showing much interest in resolving this,” said community leader Mirriam Mthethwa.

“We’re not refusing to pay for electricity, but we’re not going to allow Eskom to charge us exorbitant rates with these prepaid meters. We don’t want prepaid meters. We want a reasonable flat rate of about R200 or R300, which will be better than our current spending of R700 and more on electricity that will not last a full month.”

The Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee has also come out in support of the protesting residents.

After the fiery protest on Thursday, 15 community members were arrested for public violence and destruction of property. They were due to appear in court on Friday, but, ironically, a bout of load shedding meant their case could not be called and they spent the weekend in custody.

Eskom said that it would continue with the roll-out of the prepaid split metering system in Orlando West because it was not a unique process, but one that was being implemented throughout Gauteng.

The power utility said it was not responsible for setting the electricity tariff.

“The tariffs are regulated by the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) and Eskom abides by those tariffs for each category of customer. Eskom cannot negotiate separate tariffs outside of what is regulated. No customer in any area is on a flat rate,” Eskom said.

But Nersa spokesperson Charles Hlebela said the regulator had not received any complaints or applications from Eskom regarding the Orlando West dispute

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