Power utility Eskom says it is continuing with a campaign it started late last year in Gauteng to cut off power to users that have failed to pay or rigged illegal connections.
"If you want to avoid being disconnected, come forward. Even if you have rigged your meter, you can come forward, collect your fine and find a way forward to start paying. Do not wait to get caught," Eskom spokesperson in Gauteng, Reneiloe Semenya told Fin24 on Thursday.
But a Soweto ANC councillor, Mpho Sesedinyane, says the utility is being arrogant by disconnecting power to homes, saying communities would resist "unapologetically and without fear of intimidation".
The disconnection drive comes as the debt-laden utility seeks to recover billions of rands it is owed by municipalities. Late last year the utility's former chairperson, Jabu Mabuza, said total municipal debt could approach R30bn by the end of 2019. Eskom's own debt stands at about R450bn, and it does not make enough from selling electricity at current prices to pay off interest on the debt.
On Thursday morning, some Twitter users shared images of Eskom branded trucks apparently disconnecting electricity from residences in Soweto. Semenya confirmed that disconnections were taking place in various areas across Gauteng where households were not paying for the electricity they consumed. "We are conducting disconnections throughout Gauteng. We are in areas where we have high losses of electricity and payments are low," she said.
Eskom personnel were in areas such as Soweto, Orange Farm, Diepsloot and Ivory Park.
"It's not only an issue of paying for account. Meters have been tampered with. We issue fines in that case. They customer will get disconnected and given a bill. Those who buy illegal tokens," Semenya said.
She told Fin24 that Eskom's campaign to install prepaid meters in private homes was gaining momentum, but that some users sought to undermine the campaign by using fraudulent electricity tokens from bogus metering companies, or tampering with the meters.
"Some of the challenges we experience is that some residents rig them. We intervene because we can see which meters are being tampered with and it impacts the integrity of our system," she said.
While Eskom would continue with the disconnection drive, it would also give non-paying consumers an opportunity to come forward and become compliant. She added that Eskom would also make sure agricultural and commercial customers were paying.
Sesedinyane told Fin24 on Thursday that the local party and Soweto residents condemned the disconnections as an act of provocation against residents who were cooperating with Eskom.
"As a councillor in Soweto, we are highly disturbed by the attitude of Eskom in cutting off electricity. As a civic movement, we have made a commitment to pay a flat rate so that Eskom can get income. Cutting off electricity for non-payment will not assist or allow a peaceful Soweto," said Sesedinyane.
The flat rate was an idea floated by the South African National Civic Organisation and others to help foster a culture of payment. One proposal was for a R150 flat fee. But Eskom has previously said that it is not allowed to negotiate separate tariffs or make preferential arrangements outside of tariffs set by the National Energy Regulator.
Sesedinyane added that if Eskom continued “to be arrogant with this attitude”, the party would mobilise communities to resist unapologetically and without fear of intimidation.
- Additional reporting by Jan Cronje