On Friday, state-run power utility Eskom cut the power supply to residents of South Africa’s largest township, Soweto in Gauteng, due to unpaid electricity bills totalling ZAR4 billion.
The City of Johannesburg’s MMC for Environment and Infrastructure Services Matshidiso Mfikoe has contested the utility’s decision to disconnect residents, saying that it was “inhumane and smacks of unbridled arrogance”.
Mfikoe stressed: “What exacerbates this irrational decision is the deafening silence and indifference on the part of Eskom, which shows complete and utter disregard to the people of Soweto.”
Unpaid electricity bills
The dispute concerns the residents of the township owing Eskom ZAR4 billion in unpaid electricity bills.
Last week Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said Soweto was not being let off the hook and the households concerned would have to pay their debt.
The township has a population estimated at five million of which 180,000 households are serviced directly by Eskom, according to Phasiwe.
The balance are serviced by the City of Johannesburg metropolitan council, reported local media Business Report.
Phasiwe said: “What people need to know is that Soweto may be the biggest township in South Africa but that does not make it a municipality. We are going after those households that owe us and there is no way people can simply consume electricity for free.”
Soweto residents had fought an attempt by Eskom to implement prepaid meters in the township, according to the newspaper report.
A political party leader from the African National Congress, who declined to be named, said that the Soweto debt was not easy to deal with given the potential backlash that might follow if Eskom cuts electricity due to non-payment.
According to News24, on Thursday fifteen people were arrested for public violence in Orlando West after protesters threatened to burn down a popular restaurant.
Edna Mamonyane, superintendent of Johannesburg Metro Police, said the protesters wanted to pursue hostile action “so that Eskom takes them seriously”.
Mfikoe, meanwhile, said the city is still holding out for a solution to be agreed with Eskom.
“The City of Johannesburg will constructively engage Eskom to find a speedy, lasting and amicable resolution to this impasse.
“We believe that collectively we can find a middle ground and establish a working relationship that will ensure that this unfortunate incident does not reoccur,” Mfikoe added.
Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau said that the residents of Soweto should not be allowed to pay a flat rate for electricity because that will lead to abuse, the City Press reported last week.