A flat rate for electricity could help foster a culture of payment among Soweto residents, a local councillor told Fin24.
Soweto ANC councillor Mpho Sesedinyane believes a proposal for a R150 monthly flat rate for electricity could be a starting point to address the country's non-payment woes. The flat-rate proposal was the brainchild of the South African National Civic Organisation – a non-political organisation which advocates on behalf of communities in engagements with government and other service providers.
Soweto owes Eskom almost R20bn - almost half of the total local municipal debt owed to the electricity utility.
Eskom has started disconnecting power to thousands of Soweto households as a consequence.
Sesedinyane said the culture of non-payment dates back to apartheid when residents were told not to pay for public services as an act of resistance.
"Our people were told not to pay for services, not to pay for electricity," Sesedinyane said.
The ruling ANC had not come back to residents to communicate it was noble to pay for services, after taking over in 1994, he said. Some residents can afford to pay, but are stuck in the old "mentality" and are still resisting payment, he added.
"We need to bring them back and say, we have won the country now. It is us [the ANC] that are governing now, can we now start to contribute and pay Eskom," Sesedinyane said. These views have previously been expressed by president Cyril Ramaphosa and his deputy, David Mabuza, among others.
Sesedinyane believes the introduction of a flat rate could be a starting point to create a culture of payment for services.
"We had to agree (with Sanco) to come up with this project. For Eskom to collect revenue, it is important to start somewhere," he said. That starting point is a flat fee of R150 households should pay per month for electricity.
If a flat rate of R150 is introduced, Eskom would at least generate some kind of income, which is better than none at all, he suggested.
Sesedinyane explained that the majority of Soweto residents are unemployed, living below the poverty line and are reliant on social grants. This means they are unable to pay for electricity.
The flat rate should be set at an amount which everyone can afford, including grant beneficiaries. After three or four years the flat rate can be increased, and at that point people will be used to paying for electricity, he added.
"People will then be in a position to know it is noble to pay for services, especially electricity. And they will be used to paying at the end of the day."
Sesedinyane said that prepaid meters will not be the solution. "Our people will start connecting themselves illegally and they will not pay for electricity."
The South African Local Government Association – an association comprised of 257 local governments – however does not think that a flat rate would work. Spokesperson Sivuyile Mbambato told Fin24 that the proposal was "unsustainable".
"We do not have the luxury of cheap and excess electricity like we did more than 20 years ago. Everyone must pay for what they use," he said.
Salga is supportive of a prepaid solution. "Prepaid will be the answer in Soweto and other townships but the residents still reject that. This is an indication of how deep is the culture on non-payment in our communities," said Mbambato.
The association's National Executive Committee met last week to discuss solutions for rising municipal debt, among other issues.
The NEC resolved that a two-phased approach be implemented to address rising debt, according to a statement issued by Salga last week.
Phase 1 puts forward stricter enforcement by municipalities on credit control measures. This means municipalities will have to target government properties and businesses, through disconnection if there is "sufficient merit" in line with their credit control policies, the statement read.
Phase 2 involves an analysis of debt to classify debt which must be written off, or is realistically collectable.
The proposal comes after a period in which Salga interacted with various parliamentary portfolio committees on matters relating to debt owed by municipalities.