South Africa: Soweto Blackouts - Paying Residents Say They Are Being Unfairly Punished By Eskom

Threats by power utility Eskom not to repair faulty and damaged substations and transformers in areas where residents don't pay for their electricity, are being felt by some Soweto residents.

Soweto alone owes Eskom over R17 billion in unpaid electricity bills.

Some parts of Soweto have been experiencing blackouts since winter began, while many streets are still littered with the debris of burnt tyres and other objects from recent protests over electricity.

In some parts of Meadowlands, electricity blackouts have become a daily reality. Some homes in Meadowlands Zone 2 and Zone 8 have been without electricity for over three weeks.

A ward councillor's home was almost set alight by an angry mob, demanding answers.

H ouse was almost burnt to the ground

In Meadowlands Zone 2, a house caught alight after an unattended candle allegedly caused the fire.

Mapula Ntuli, 64, almost lost her entire newly renovated three-bedroom house, when the fire that started from a backroom spread into the main house on July 6.

Ntuli and others in Zone 2, have been without electricity since June 20, after an Eskom transformer that supplies them with electricity exploded and caught fire.

"Due to this darkness in our area, we sleep very early. On that day I was asleep, when I heard people screaming in my yard that my house was burning.

"The fire started at a backroom and spread to the main house. I am very grateful to neighbours who spotted the fire quickly and assisted in extinguishing it. They managed to contain the fire before it could ravage the entire house," she said.

Her furniture, ceiling, and electrical appliances in the lounge were destroyed.

"I am a pensioner and have no money to fix my house. I don't know how much I have lost from the fire. I am pleading with anyone to help me. If we had electricity this could not have happened. What's painful is that I am paying for my services monthly. I plead with Eskom not to punish us who are regular payers," she said.

Her neighbour, John Lekgeu, 80, echoed her concerns, asking why those who do pay their bills were being punished.

"I pay for my electricity and water bills monthly with my pension money. I have statements to prove that. Why are we being punished for other people's sins? These blackouts will encourage criminals to target us in our homes at night.

"We live in fear... We plead with Eskom to come to our rescue," said Lekgeu.

Mpho Nukeri, from Zone 8 in Meadowlands said they have heard enough with blackouts.

"It is fact that many of us are not paying for electricity. Eskom must give us a chance to come up with plans of settling the debt. We are unemployed at home. I survive on odd jobs to bring bread on the table.

"We are pleading with Eskom to give all non-payers a R200 monthly flat rate in order to secure the bill," said Nukeri.

His neighbours have taken to the streets in protest over the past few days.

Businessman, Glen Morudi, who claimed that he is paying for electricity called on Eskom to address all of Soweto's residents on why some parts were still without electricity.

"Eskom must come to the people and call a meeting where decisions will be taken to assist those who don't pay to start paying. It is sad for us who pay because blackouts don't chose, they hit us all including us who pay monthly.

"We are carrying a burden of people who don't pay. Eskom must assist us as regular payers, not to be affected by blackouts," he said.

Ward councillor, Happyboy Molobye said he received a call that his parental home was under attack.

"A mob of people wanted to burn my home. They jumped the wall and my neighbours and relatives managed to prevent them from attacking my home and they set tyres alight near the gate. That house is not mine. I don't know why they wanted to attack it.

"People want electricity and I have explained to them on many occasions about Eskom's stance on the matter. I have established that many homes in my ward are not paying for electricity. They are in the red," he said.

Molobye said he has formed two groups of residents that constantly accompany him to Eskom offices to inquire about blackouts.

"The groups proposed to Eskom officials that they are willing to pay for their electricity consumption. They have suggested that they are willing to pay R150 per house monthly to settle their debts.

"I was surprised why they marched to my home because they owe Eskom and I am assisting to ensure that lights are brought back," said Molobye.

On Tuesday, Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba, promised to engage with Eskom officials over the power utility's apparent threats that it will not repair infrastructure in areas where there are high levels of non-payment.

Mashaba said he had received complaints from many Soweto residents demanding his interventions.

"... it is also alleged that Eskom has resolved not to maintain or repair their own infrastructure in areas where there are high levels of non-payment of Eskom account," he said.

"I feel compelled to enter the fray and intervene on behalf of paying residents, who face unfair punishment at the hands of Eskom due to the actions of a few residents.

"Should the allegations against Eskom prove to be true, it would amount to a blanket punishment, and taken to their logical conclusion, are a violation of residents' rights as well as a gross abuse of power," said Mashaba.


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