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No end to the billing crisis

14 December 2011 - 02:03 By AMUKELANI CHAUKE

Johannesburg's billing crisis has seen a ratepayers' association rescue a retired resident who considered suicide and a woman who overdosed.

The two residents of Kensington are among thousands of residents of Johannesburg - the country's wealthiest municipality - who have had sleepless nights over the grossly inflated bills they have received from the city, which routinely demands that they pay up first and ask questions later.

Kensington is also home to former Johannesburg mayor Amos Masondo.

Schindler's Attorneys, which represents more than 200000 residents and businesses, will ask the Johannesburg High Court tomorrow to order the city to stop its "illegal disconnections" of water.

Lee Cahill, the head of the Joburg Advocacy Group - which represents residents' associations across the city - said the pensioner and the unemployed woman received separate threats from the municipality's lawyers, who forced them to pay the disputed bills or have their water and lights cut off.

Cahill said while she could not take credit for talking the 68-year-old man out of taking his own life. She said he had spoken to her of his desire to commit suicide more than once - both over the phone and when she bumped into him in the neighbourhood.

The man, who asked not to be named, was at his wits' end over his billing battles.

The municipality forced him to pay incorrect bills amounting to R12000 on two of his properties after threatening him with cut-offs in August. He then installed prepaid meters.

But last week, the metro sent him even more bills - this time for R1500.

"They have promised that they will reverse that amount, but I don't know if they will. I have even thought of leaving Johannesburg and moving to another city where I won't be subjected to this," he said.

"I am supposed to be in retirement, but I've had to start working again to service these bills, and I have now put one of my properties on the market to cover my costs."

The man received an incorrect R250000 water bill over a year ago, which took the city months to resolve, and he had to endure continual threats from city lawyers.

Also last week, a representative of the I Love Kensington residents' association drove an unemployed neighbour to hospital after she tried to commit suicide when her water was cut off.

The association member, who asked not to be named, said the woman received a bill for R27000 and the council cut her off without warning, and simply left a disconnection notice in her post box.

"I think that was the final straw. She took all of her sleeping tablets and anti-depressants, and if it wasn't for the fact that I BBMed her and got a very garbled message in return, which prompted me to go and check on her, she would've been found dead the next day," she said.

City spokesman Stan Maphologela could not be reached for comment yesterday.

About 41000 residents had their water and electricity cut off last December .

City manager Trevor Fowler launched a plan last month in which he promised to rid the city of its billing crisis by 2013, but residents say things are getting worse.