Peaceful start as Soweto prepares for shutdown with residents demanding free electricity

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Protesters in Soweto early on Tuesday morning.
Protesters in Soweto early on Tuesday morning.
Ntwaagae Seleka, News24

Residents of Soweto in Gauteng took to the streets on Tuesday morning in protest against days-long electricity cuts.

A handful of Soweto residents turned up to protest against electricity blackouts and billing problems in the area.

Residents marched up and down the Chris Hani Road, allowing traffic to flow easily. Police and other law enforcement agencies kept an eye on the peaceful protesters.

Residents later headed to the Moroka police station waving placards and chanting anti-Eskom slogans. 

The leader of the Soweto Shutdown, Rufus Tshoke, said they were expecting more people to turn up later to strengthen their protest.

"The reaction so far is positive. We are having a protest now and have not yet begun blocking roads.

"Today, we are having a peaceful one and at the end of the day, we want to be heard, noticed and get attention of the powers that be, including Eskom," said Tshoke.

He added protesters wanted the attention of Gauteng Premier David Makhura, who should acknowledge their challenges with Eskom. He added that protesters have been on the road since 03:00.

Over-billing

Tshoke accused the power utility of over-billing residents. He said Eskom has failed to explain why it was over-billing Soweto residents.

"We are having people who are using prepaid meters who don't have electricity. Regarding the R18bn Eskom bill, Eskom has actually said the actual debt is R5bn and R8bn is interest to that debt.

"Eskom must come and tell us how much business and residents owe them and how much government buildings in Soweto also owe Eskom and we can take it from there.

"Even the billing system itself, estimates are being used and we hardly see people checking Eskom meters. Apparently, they use estimates for three months to bill us," Tshoke said.

The Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee earlier said that it was planning to shut down the township during the State of the Province Address by Makhura and the national Budget Speech this week, EWN reported. 

Soweto residents owe Eskom almost R18bn in utility fees that form part of a culture of non-payment that goes back to the days of apartheid. 

Older residents partly blame the ANC for the debt because the governing party's leaders encouraged them not to pay municipal bills in order to bring the apartheid government to its knees. 

Organisers of the Soweto shutdown are calling on residents to abstain from work and take to the streets, wearing black clothing.

SAPS spokesperson Captain Kay Makhubele said officers were monitoring the situation.

Rea Vaya Bus Transit said 20 routes were operating normally, except for the F4 route amid the Soweto Shutdown movement.

"[The] F4 [route] is diverted to terminate and start at Orlando Stadium, we'll update if there's any changes."

READ | Cops ready for Gauteng shutdown over electricity, service delivery issues

Law enforcement agencies are ready to respond to a planned shutdown in Soweto and other parts of Gauteng on Tuesday over electricity and other service delivery issues, News24 earlier reported. 

"Officers will be deployed and we will work with other law enforcement agencies," said Johannesburg Metro Police Department spokesperson Wayne Minnaar. "We will deal with it as it unfolds."

In January, Eskom warned it was continuing with a campaign it started in Gauteng last year to cut off power to users who had failed to pay or rigged illegal connections, Fin24 reported.

Gauteng Eskom spokesperson Reneiloe Semenya said at the time the utility'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.

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