Durban - Pensioners at a municipal-owned block of flats in Verulam say they are barely able to keep up with rent but are also being saddled with high electricity bills because they are estimated charges and not based on actual usage charges.
The high bills have resulted in some using gas and paraffin stoves to save money.
The residents of Borough of Verulam say they have made many attempts to have prepaid electricity meters installed to curb the high charges, and that the municipality has been aware of their problems for about two years without doing anything about it.
The pensioners, who survive on grants of about R1 700 a month, have electricity bills of more than R1 000 and still pay rent of R600.
Kumari Govender, who has been living in the flats for 15 years, said receiving high bills had resulted in her having to cut down on expenses like food.
The 78-year-old diabetic said cutting down on groceries and the stress from the bills had resulted in her becoming sickly. “I become stressed and the sugar rises,” she said.
Govender, who lives alone, said she has had to negotiate with the municipality to pay her huge electricity bill which is more than R1 200 a month.
Other residents said they had turned to gas stoves to save electricity, even though this was not allowed.
Retonia Govindsamy, the chairperson of a committee fighting for the residents, said they had battled to have prepaid meters installed.
She said pensioners should not be billed at such high rates when people in RDP houses were not paying as much.
Govindsamy said the pensioners spent most of the day at a nearby frail care centre and only used a small amount of electricity for cooking and television, yet were being billed large amounts.
“They also have to pay for funeral policies and for medical expenses,” she said.
They have had to ask for sponsors to help them to pay some bills. “We are not saying we don’t want to pay for electricity – what we don’t want to do is to pay exorbitant fees for lights that we are not using.”
Ward councillor Johnson Chetty said he became aware of the pensioners’ challenges two years ago.
“It is my opinion that these flats have been paid for many times over by these tenants. The municipality must seriously consider waiving the astronomical rents that are levied, or reduce such them based on affordability. This is an injustice meted to our marginalised and it’s time that the general public is sensitised to these pensioners’ predicament,” he said.
Acting mayor Fawzia Peer said the city’s head of revenue at the municipality, Pierre du Plessis, was planning to meet with the residents next week to work out a solution to the problem. She said not all the flats belonged to the municipality and they would not be able to help everyone there.
Peer said she had previously had discussions with the residents and empathised with the many challenges they faced.