Granting power utility Eskom the 15% annual tariff hike it has asked for will only add pressure to already struggling households, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa heard on the second day of public hearings.
The energy regulator, which sets prices and tariffs for Eskom, started public hearings in Cape Town on Monday regarding what the debt-laden power utility will be allowed to charge for electricity in years ahead, and what it can recoup from shortfalls in 2017/18.
The annual hearings, which invite testimony from businesses, energy experts, government officials and members of the public, will take place nationwide over three weeks.
Eskom has applied for a 15% annual tariff increase every year for the next three years, and has also applied to recover losses made in the 2017/18 financial year.
On Tuesday, members of the public from Cape Town argued against the 15% increases.
Joyce Malebu, a pensioner from Gugulethu, put forward the plight of her community, who she said are mostly unemployed and pensioners surviving on government grants.
"The increase from Eskom will have a negative impact on the poorest of the poor, the standard of living will be worsened. We want authorities to consider the negative impact on our lifestyle," she told the panel.
Using an example, Malebu said that R20 could only buy a household between four and eight units of electricity, which is not enough to power lights, a fridge and stove for more than two hours.
"The cost of living will be unbearable," she added.
Lydia Petersen, an activist from Mitchells Plain, said that in her community households are mainly run by social grant recipients. The grants they are given are mostly used for electricity, water and other basic necessities.
"If Eskom applies for a 15% tariff hike - where will these frail persons get another 15% to subsidise their living? They don't have it. I implore Nersa to rethink 15% hike. It is impossible for these people to live a normal, decent life. They can't afford it," she said.
'Find it in your heart'
Ann October of Mitchells Plain spoke about two pensioners in her community who spend the majority (more than R1 000) of their R1 700 grant on electricity.
"What is left over for them to survive? … Find it in your heart, Eskom, and think about the community," she implored.Members of the public who made presentations at the Nersa hearing on Eskom's tariff applications. (Photo: Lameez Omarjee)
General manager of regulations at Eskom, Hasha Tlhotlhalemaje, responded to the concerns raised on behalf of the power utility, which is in a precarious financial position and burdened by around R420bn in debt.
"We do understand the challenges and the difficulties that many of the various communities across the country experience and we sympathise with that.
"Unfortunately Eskom is not in a position to make policy decisions, Eskom is just an implementer of policy decisions," she said.
"We are willing to have further discussions on how to address challenges, but we are not the final decision makers."
Tlhotlhalemaje said that Eskom agrees there must be protection for the poor.
Eskom a 'forerunner'
"Eskom has been a forerunner in trying to make sure there are electricity prices and conditions that protect the poor - we stand by that and continue to request that. But it does not mean we must keep the complete price of electricity down."
Chairperson of the Nersa panel Nomfundo Maseti closed the session, and responded to a call from the public to look into getting up workshops in rural areas to make the regulator accessible to the people who need to make their views heard.
The hearings will resume in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday and will continue in Durban for the remainder of the week. The hearings scheduled in Kimberley (January 21) and Polokwane (January 31) have been cancelled due to low public interest to present at the hearings, the regulator said in a statement.