Three chambers of commerce in Mpumalanga have won a court battle that has resulted in the review and setting aside of Eskom's "catastrophic" supply interruptions in the Thaba Chweu Local Municipality because of unpaid accounts.
"The decision of Eskom to schedule interrupted electricity cuts is reviewed and set aside," Gauteng High Court Judge Wendy Hughes ruled on Thursday.
There were two reviews before the High Court - one brought by the three chambers of commerce against the Thaba Chweu municipality and another brought by Resilient Properties Propriety against the eMalahleni municipality.
The chambers of commerce and tourism are Sabie, Lydenburg and Graskop. They represent business and industries operating within the Thaba Chweu municipality.
On October 9, 2017, Eskom, in an attempt to collect its debt owed by Thaba Chweu municipality, instituted electricity supply power cuts within the municipality. It owed more than R400m to the power utility.
Eskom demanded R80m, but the municipality indicated it would be impossible to pay the amount owed to the power utility.
Interruptions 'encroach on family time'
But the chambers of commerce argued that the interruptions, which were originally for a period of four and a half hours on week days, and five hours on weekends, were "disruptive" and "detrimental" for individuals, and "catastrophic" for the entire municipality.
They argued that the times when the interruptions were imposed "encroached on family time".
They also said that the "worst" was when the power supply returned, as this created far-reaching consequences that had "catastrophic effects on health, safety, access to water and sanitation for both residents and businesses".
They also argued that when the power supply is cut, all sewerage works immediately come to a standstill and that sewage is not pumped to the sewerage processing plants but instead sits for the duration of the cut-off.
Resilient Properties Propriety, which owns Highveld Mall, brought an application against the eMalahleni municipality after Eskom cut off the power supply.
Resilient pays electricity to the eMalahleni municipality, however, due to its dispute with utility, the municipality had not paid over the full amount billed by Eskom.
Eskom, municipality 'have failed'
In May 2016, eMalahleni completed an acknowledgement of debt admitting it owed Eskom more than R500m.
After giving the municipality notice, the power utility forged ahead and implemented the interruptions of electricity supply during the course of February and March 2017.
Resilient has said that eMalahleni is a "financial delinquent municipality and its conduct is lawful".
Judge Hughes said Resilient's submission "echoes" the sentiments of the chambers of commerce, that when Eskom implements these interruptions there are "catastrophic consequences".
"It is apparent that there is a dispute with regards to payment due to Eskom by the two municipalities concerned. It is common cause that both parties have constitutional duties and obligations towards the public at large," Hughes said.
"Both parties in my view, have failed the public at large, on the one hand we have the delinquent municipalities and on the one hand we have Eskom having not been paid by the municipalities opting to deprive the public of basic services in terms of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
"In conclusion it is evident to me that Eskom and the municipalities failed to adopt the dispute mechanism at their disposal in terms of IRFA (Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act)."