American Renaissance

Residents Fume Over Power Cuts, Billing Chaos

Solly Maphumulo, Anna Cox and Lynda Loxton, The Star (SA), iol, Jun. 30

Joburg was plunged into darkness again on Tuesday night, protesters against electricity billing chaos have marched again . . . and now we could face a special electricity tax.

This is the latest on the state of Joburg’s growing electricity crisis which continues to plague the city.

Areas affected on Tuesday night were Observatory, Rosebank, Alexandra, Ceydna, Greswold, Bellevue and Orchards.

702 Talk Radio reported on Wednesday morning that there had been a 14-hour power cut in Randpark Ridge which City Power attributed to Telkom operations, where they are working on their telephone lines.

City Power spokesperson Sam Masolo said staff had worked hard to get everything back to normal.

“We have teams that work 24 hours whether we have electricity interruptions or not,” Masolo said.

“Electricity has a life span, our cables are no longer in good condition. The budget allocation will assist us to refurbish our network. Upgrading of the cables will be a continuous process, but we hope to minimise the problem,” he added.

The Democratic Alliance’s Mike Moriarty said the continuing power failures were totally unacceptable.

“The DA will be demanding that City Power cut the power failures by at least half during the next year,” he said.

“We understand that the problems cannot be stopped overnight, but we believe this is a realistic target. The cuts are damaging to the economy of Joburg as businesses continually lose trade and money on a daily basis.’

For pensioner Wendy Durandt the latest power cut could have been a situation of life and death.

The 59-year-old suffers from emphysema and is dependant on oxygen 16 hours a day. When the lights went out on Tuesday night, her oxygen machine’s alarm went off to warn her it had no power supply.

“As soon as the alarm went off I realised there was no electricity. I panicked because I depend on it,” she said.

“I was worried the whole night because I couldn’t use my oxygen. I had to use my inhaler which is not very strong. I couldn’t even get out of the building because we have security gates. And we can’t open them when there is no electricity.”

Meanwhile, a proposal for an electricity tax is in a report handed to Finance Minister Trevor Manuel by the Financial and Fiscal Commission. The report says municipalities may be allowed to tax electricity under the new distribution system, which comes into effect in mid-2006.

In terms of the new system, electricity distribution, a major source of income for cash-strapped municipalities, will instead be regulated by regional electricity distribution authorities, resulting in a loss of income to municipalities.

To compensate, the government is considering allowing municipalities to tax electricity sales within their boundaries.

And in the fourth protest march within a year, angry residents — mainly from Eldorado Park, Ennerdale and Lenasia — on Tuesday braved the cold to march on Mayor Amos Masondo’s office.

They say the city is refusing to either write off arrear debt interest or refusing to make reasonable repayment arrangements with them.

About 150 members of the Community Development Initiative Forum (CDIF) and the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee claimed their requests were constantly being ignored, and they called for Masondo’s resignation.

Most claim they have bills of up to R90 000 for services they never used. Many have had electricity and water cut off, yet still receive ever-increasing bills every month.

CDIF spokesperson Miriam Jacobs said the marchers were still livid about the fact that a deal had been offered to residents in Soweto, Ivory Park and Alexandra — where there were no meters — to write off arrear debts on condition that those residents make monthly payments.

In terms of that agreement, the arrears would be written off over 36 months, if regular payments were made. For every payment made, 1/36th of the arrears would be written off.

“We have accepted that this will not happen in our area, so now all we are asking is that at least the interest be written off, and that reasonable pay-back agreements can be made,” Jacobs said.

“We want a blanket write-off of interest for all people living in these areas because even if they have jobs, they will never be able to repay these huge amounts,” she said.