South Africans are suffering regular and extended load-shedding by Eskom, an issue that shows no sign of being resolved.
Grahamstown residents, however, face a much larger threat to their electricity access: a R90-million debt that its Makana municipality owes Eskom.
The debt dates back to 2013, a year before the municipality was placed under administration due to financial and infrastructural ruin.
Six years later and Eskom is taking action by threatening to shut off power to the municipality for 14 hours every day.
According to a recent notice issued by Eskom, Makana was previously issued suspension notices on 19 November 2018, but did not remedy the breach of payment outlined.
“Eskom therefore reinstates its process to interrupt bulk electricity supply to the above municipality and will provide the public with 15 days’ notice of the date of supply interruptions,” a notice said.
The power cuts are planned for 2 April and will span the following time period:
- 6:00 – 9:00 and 17:00 – 20:30 from Monday to Friday.
- 8:30 – 12:00 and 15:00 – 19:00 on Saturday and Sunday.
Week 2 onwards
- 6:00 – 20:00 daily
Eskom claims that the 14-hour power cuts will continue indefinitely until full payment is received, or until an agreement is reached.
The notice issued by Eskom can be found below.
Eskom confirmed to MyBroadband that the notice was legitimate.
It told MyBroadband that the Makana municipality “has reneged on the payment plan agreed to between Eskom and the municipality”.
Eskom said it “views electricity supply interruptions as the last resort action to recover debt owed by the municipality”.
Can Eskom cut a municipality’s power?
The Grahamstown Residents Association (GRA) has questioned whether Eskom’s plan to cut power to the municipality is legal, however.
“A recent court case in Gauteng ruled that Eskom may not take an action of this nature until it has exhausted all remedies in Sections 41 and 42 of the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act. We would like to know if Eskom’s threat complies with this judgment,” GRA chairperson Philip Machanick told Grocotts Mail.
Eskom also previously tried to cut the power supply to the town of Musina in Limpopo, but was prevented from doing so by a high court in Pretoria.
This happened after Sakeliga NPC applied to interdict Eskom from cutting Musina off from the grid.
“It is submitted that the threatened conduct of Eskom in proceeding to interrupt the electricity supply of the second respondent (Musina Municipality) is illegal and therefore falls to be interdicted,” claimed Sakeliga.
In this instance, Eskom did not contest the interdict.
It remains uncertain whether Eskom would contest any interdict against the notice issued to the Makana municipality, though.
“While we understand their frustration in making delinquent municipalities pay, inflicting this sort of punishment on the community at a time of crisis is cruel and unnecessary,” added Machanick.
Compounding its woes
The crisis Machanick refers to in Grahamstown also involves massive water shortages due to a mixture of poor infrastructure and a crippling drought that has plagued the area.
According to the Makana municipality website, one local dam is completely empty, while the other three only contain 12.1%, 15%, and 22.7% of their capacities.
As a result, residents are only allowed to use 50 litres of water each day.
“At a high level, we are engaging with national and provincial government to discuss relief efforts as well as long-term solutions, while simultaneously we are partnering with our community to galvanise a response to the immediate crisis we face,” said Makana municipality.
ABSA and Engen have sponsored 360,000 litres of bottled water and 150 JoJo tanks towards assisting the citizens of Grahamstown.