File picture: Reuters
JOHANNESBURG – Eskom has implemented the supply interruptions in Mpumalanga because the municipality owed more than R400 million to the power utility.

Eskom demanded R80 million, but the municipality indicated it would be impossible to pay the amount owed to Eskom.

Three chambers of commerce in Mpumalanga have approached the Constitutional Court to intervene in Eskom’s "catastrophic" supply interruptions in the Thaba Chweu municipality because of unpaid accounts. The chambers of commerce and tourism in Sabie, Lydenburg and Graskop approached the Mpumalanga High Court, but their case was dismissed last week.

This prompted the chambers to approach the Constitutional Court to intervene in the matter.

They argue that the interruptions, which were originally for a period of four and a half hours on week days, and five hours on weekends, was "disruptive" and "detrimental" for individuals, and "catastrophic" for the entire municipality.

The affidavit, filed by Gert van der Merwe on behalf of the three chambers, states that on October 25, the interruptions increased to six and a half hours on week days, and seven hours on weekends. "This situation is exacerbated when the period is indefinite and the basis, therefore is unlawful," the affidavit reads.

"In addition to the obvious harms arising from no electricity, when the power is cut, all sewage works immediately come to a standstill. This means that sewage is not pumped to the sewage processing plants but instead, simply sits for the duration of the cut-off, with the associated, serious risks to the health of the community."

The chambers argue that these cuts are having a devastating effect on hospitals, mortuaries, schools, children studying for their exams, law enforcement agencies and courts. "Indeed, electricity is in many respects a ‘gateway’ right to other rights," they argue.

They argue that the interruptions infringe on multiple rights including the right to dignity, the right to healthcare services, and the right to sufficient water.

"Each day that the cuts persist results in further irreparable harm to the [three chambers], the business interest which they represent, the workers and dependents of those businesses and society as a whole," they said.

The three chambers approached the court with the hopes of declaring Eskom’s decision to interrupt the supply of power to the municipality inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid, that the municipality’s failure to ensure the electricity supply was not interrupted was unconstitutional and invalid, and ordering Eskom to restore full electricity supply to the municipality.

Puleng Mapheto, spokesperson for the Thaba Chweu Municipality, said: "We are doing everything in our power to salvage the situation". Mapheto said the municipality was "in constant negotiations" with the chambers and Eskom.