Eskom's patience with the non-payment of accounts by Mpumalanga's municipalities have reached breaking point to such an extent that it has capped the amount of power supplied to these entities.
One of the towns hardest hit by this capping is Bethal, which falls under the control of the Govan Mbeki Municipality in Secunda.
Eskom has cut the municipality's notified maximum demand of electricity to 81 000kVA. This has forced the municipality to limit its supply to towns such as Kriel, Bethal, Evander and Embalenhle.
The latest reports, tabled by the departments of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) and human settlement before the provincial portfolio committees, indicate that the 21 municipalities in the province owe Eskom around R8 billion.
The interest on these outstanding accounts amounts to R79 million per month, or R1 billion per year.
"We are currently experiencing uncontrolled power cuts for as much as six or seven hours per day," said Maryke Claassen, an irate resident of Bethal.
Claassen was so frustrated about the untimely power cuts in Bethal and neighbouring Emzinoni that she started a petition on Change.com, which garnered 3 000 signatures.
During a visit to Secunda earlier, the petition was handed to Deputy President David Mabuza, former premier of Mpumalanga.
Andries Mokogophi, an Emzinoni resident, missed 80% of his online classes due to these power cuts. "It totally sucks," he wrote as his comment on the petition.
The four worst municipal debtors in the province are Emalahleni (Witbank), which owes R3.8 billion (monthly interest of R33 million); Govan Mbeki with R1.8 billion (R21 million monthly interest); Lekwa (Standerton) owes R1 billion (R10 million monthly interest); and Thaba Chweu (Lydenburg) owes R707 million (R5 million monthly interest).
According to a report by the Gert Sibande District Municipality, the Govan Mbeki Municipality is losing around 51% of its electricity purchased owing to illegal connections.
"A lack of political will, financial mismanagement and incompetency due to cadre deployment must be blamed for the mess in municipalities," said Trudie Grovè-Morgan, DA spokesperson in the Mpumalanga legislature.