Durban - Violence similar to what is being experienced in Zimbabwe at present could occur in South Africa if Eskom was granted its tariff increase request.
This was the warning from Vusi Zweni, chairperson of Abahlali Bamahostela, who was making a presentation at the National Energy Regulator of SA hearings in Durban on Wednesday.
The hearings - to gauge public opinion on Eskom’s application to increase electricity tariffs by 15% a year for the next three years - are being held over two days at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre as part of a roadshow going around the country.
Zweni said people were already being forced to use candles, and that this had deadly consequences. He gave the example of an 85-year-old woman who died in a fire caused by a candle at KwaMakhutha last year.
“We are asking you, Eskom, to stop oppressing us,” he said.
Zweni said if the situation deteriorated any further, South Africans would go down the route of Zimbabwe, where people would have to become violent to get their message across.
He said the parastatal should come clean about the corruption that has bedevilled it, and suggested it should consider going to the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture to talk about its sins.
Desmond D’Sa, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said Eskom officials believed they could fool the public. He said Eskom’s previous applications to increase tariffs were based on lies.
D’Sa said it was not only this generation that would pay for the loans Eskom had taken from organisations like the China Development Bank and World Bank, but future generations as well.
He also complained about the corruption at the organisation.
“Eskom has been captured,” he said.
Sizwe Shiba, chairperson of Mayine Azanian Movement, said Eskom should get its house in order and not be run like a spaza shop. He said it was planning to “rob” people to get its house in order.
Shiba said people were already suffering from the rise in VAT and petrol price hikes. Shiba, who had been to previous Nersa hearings over the years, said they were tired of preaching the same message to Eskom.
In a veiled reference to the use of violence, he said if Eskom did not listen to their cries, they would have to use tactics that were used during apartheid to get their message across.
It was not only civil society who gave Eskom a hard time at the hearings - businesses also took the organisation to task.
Melanie Veness, chief executive of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business, said what Eskom was doing was shameful to all South Africans. She said the power utility was embroiled in overpriced contracts, and that even its “tea contracts” were overpriced.
Veness said Eskom already had a bloated staff of about 30 000 people who had an average income of about R708000, and that the utility should seriously consider retrenching staff.
“You can’t wait for natural attrition. That is nonsense,” she said.
Veness said Eskom’s tariff increases would make it difficult for business to operate. “How will any business accept that into their expenditure?” she asked, adding that business did not have the capacity to bail out Eskom.
With business suffering, the country could not afford for the unemployment rate to go any higher, she said. Veness said job creation was the province of business, and not government.
Calib Cassim, chief financial officer at Eskom, said he had expected that the power utility would be grilled at the hearings. He said he had been involved in the tariff process for the past 15 years and that tough questions needed to be asked.
Cassim said the total revenue that Eskom required was about R763 billion over the next three years.
“It is important that Eskom gets a good decision from the regulator We need to address our costs and become efficient and get government support. We can’t do it alone,” he said.
“The reality is that tough decisions need to be made, not only for Eskom, but for the country,” he said.
The hearings continue.