The KwaZulu-Natal government is urgently trying to avert electricity interruptions in the Newcastle Local Municipality after it racked up electricity debt of more than R200m.
On Monday, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) MEC Sipho Hlomuka urged residents "to pay for municipal services, including electricity, as their failure to do so puts a huge strain on the dwindling finances of municipalities".
He said business and consumer electricity debt was the main reason for escalating costs.
"What we are dealing with here in Newcastle is a challenge that is facing many municipalities across the country. It is the failure by residents, including businesses, to keep up to date with their utility bills."
A notice of intent to interrupt electricity supply to Newcastle was published over the weekend and September 30 was the deadline for payment.
The municipality has overdue debt to power utility Eskom of about R200m.
Hlomuka said while the government was committed to working with municipalities to find a solution, residents should prioritise paying for municipal services.
"We have seen many cases where households prioritise entertainment, DSTV and airtime, instead of paying for utilities first and this behaviour has to change," he said.
Hlomuka has also urged municipalities to implement stringent measures to recover lost revenue, which includes fining or prosecuting those found to have illegal electricity connections.
"The law has to take its course. It is absolutely untenable that the financial stability of our municipalities is at risk due to those who refuse to pay for services such as electricity," he said.
Hlomuka added that Newcastle defaulters had to urgently settle their bills.
"The implications of power interruptions would be a major setback for the economic prospects of Newcastle. Power cuts would impact on jobs and investments. They would dissuade potential investors from settling where there is uncertainty over electricity. It is time for everyone to pull together and avert a power crisis in Newcastle," he said.
Hlomuka said he directed senior Cogta officials to urgently facilitate engagements with Eskom to find a lasting solution.
The meeting is expected to take place on Monday.