KZN Cogta MEC in urgent bid to stop Eskom cutting power to municipality owing R123m
KwaZulu-Natal cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) MEC Sipho Hlomuka is to urgently meet Eskom to prevent power cuts to the embattled Mooi-Mpofana municipality in the KZN midlands over an outstanding R123m bill.
Hlomuka is expected to meet with the power utility on Thursday in a bid to prevent rolling power cuts in the municipality, which covers urban areas such as Mooi River, Bruntville and Nottingham Road, as well as other debt-laden municipalities in the province that also owe millions in electricity bills.
Hlomuka's intervention followed threats by residents of Bruntville on Tuesday to blockade the busy N3 highway and bring the town of Mooi River to a standstill if their electricity is cut off.
Mooi River has been notorious for a spate of incidents where trucks have been set alight along the N3.
“As a department that oversees municipalities, we’re intervening in the matter of imminent electricity switch-offs in municipalities by facilitating an urgent meeting with Eskom [for] the affected municipalities [to] find solutions that will satisfy the power utility and keep the lights on at Mpofana,” said Hlomuka in a statement on Wednesday.
On Monday, Eskom issued a notice to the Mooi-Mpofana municipality about its intention to interrupt electricity supply indefinitely from July 8.
According to the notice, the municipality - which was placed under administration by Cogta last year due to allegations of maladministration, fraud and corruption - owes Eskom R123m for the bulk supply of electricity, part of which has been outstanding and escalating since July 15 2015.
The power utility said the municipality’s breach of its payment obligations undermined and placed in jeopardy its ability to maintain the national supply of electricity on a financially sustainable basis.
Eskom notified residents of the municipality that between July 8 and 14, electricity would be cut off from 6am to 9am and from 5pm to 8.30pm from Monday to Friday, and from 9.30am till noon and 3pm to 7pm on Saturday and Sunday.
Eskom then plans to escalate the blackouts from July 15 until the problem is resolved, when electricity will be switched off between 6am and 8pm from Monday to Friday and on weekends.
Mooi-Mpofana mayor Xolani Duma told TimesLIVE on Wednesday that non-payment for electricity was an ongoing problem faced by the municipality. He said the previous management had been using conditional grants for service delivery to pay Eskom because of a high level of tampering with electricity meters.
This came to a stop when the municipality was placed under administration, while it continued strategising on how to collect the revenue.
Duma blamed the current situation on a “false promise by the old management” that if they could recoup R64m from an electricity bill owed by a local textile company, then they would be able pay Eskom. When the municipality took Tai Yuen Textiles to court in a bid to recoup the money, they lost because it was discovered that the company had been paying tariffs set by the national energy regulator (Nersa) and had therefore done nothing wrong.
“They were paying according to the old agreement signed with the previous municipal leadership in terms of the electrical rates. So when Nersa increased the rates, nobody set a meeting with Tai Yuen Textiles to say, 'These are the new tariffs, now we need to upgrade and sign a new agreement.' They continued to pay on those old agreements when the whole country had upgraded,” said Duma, adding that the municipality was trying to schedule a meeting with Eskom on Thursday to resolve the situation.
According to Duma, Hlomuka was also expected to lobby the community to buy electricity instead of tampering with meters so that the municipality could raise the R123m owed to Eskom.
“We even employed debt collectors, but we have not been able to collect much money from those who owe us because there is a high level of resistance. We need to have a campaign to try to educate people to pay for services. There are businesses that are also owing the municipality; it’s not only the community of Bruntville. That's how we arrived at this juncture,” said Duma.
DA councillor Nhlalayenza Ndlovu said the party had called for an audit of electricity meters after it became clear that the municipality was struggling to pay for electricity - but this was never done.
“This is an old issue. Since it became clear we can't pay for electricity, we said a meter auditing must done so that those who have not paid for electricity must be disconnected. But the ruling party has failed to do. This affects businesses and schools and, as a result, the economy of the town. We still believe that the only way we can be able to pay Eskom [is] if an auditing of meters [is] done,” he said.
Mpofana Business Forum secretary Lwandle Madlala said they are very concerned as this has been an ongoing problem. “We're under the impression that the local government has failed to deal with this issue. This has been going on for too long," he said.
"People are paying. If there are those who are not paying, it’s not our responsibility to deal with that but the responsibility of the municipality.
"So now that we have to suffer because of the failure of the municipality, it’s not correct.”