DURBAN - FIVE KwaZulu-Natal municipalities, including Msunduzi Municipality in Pietermaritzburg, have continued to battle to pay for electricity and they owe the power utility Eskom several hundred million rand.
This is according to Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) MEC Sipho Hlomuka who presented the department’s budget at the KZN Legislature yesterday.
The MEC indicated that his department had sought to mediate between the municipalities and Eskom to avoid the disconnection of electricity supply.
He cited the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as one of the reasons some municipalities were battling to pay. The lockdown, noted Hlomuka, had seen some people lose their jobs and being unable to manage their bills.
“While we were able to settle Eskom debt in full at the eDumbe, Mthonjaneni, Abaqulusi and Inkosi Langalibalele local municipalities in prior years, we still have municipalities that owe Eskom. Currently, there are five KZN municipalities in arrears with Eskom payments,” said the MEC.
The municipalities whose accounts were in arrears were Endumeni (Dundee) R36m, Msunduzi Municipality R189m, Newcastle R137m, Ulundi R99m and Mpofana (Mooi River) Municipality R293m.
He added that mediation efforts and support in developing credible payment plans, including introducing costs containment at these municipalities, had seen four of them reducing their debt.
According to Hlomuka, Ulundi had initially owed the power utility R105m, Newcastle’s bill was R264m, Msunduzi’s R199.9m and Endumeni’s R54.2m.
However, he said the Mpofana Municipality had not seen its bill come down.
“Mpofana Municipality, by contrast, now owes Eskom R293.5m which is an increase of R50.9m from the previous year. A revised payment plan has been submitted to Eskom for consideration in respect of Mpofana and litigation between the parties, in which Cogta is a respondent, is still pending,” he said.
Hlomuka told the sitting that the municipality was also engaging Eskom in respect of the takeover of the electricity reticulation function, but stressed that the department continued to provide support to Mpofana.
Approached for comment, Newcastle municipal manager Zamani Mcineka acknowledged that there was money owed by the municipality to the power utility, but indicated that he was unable to confirm the figure.
Professor Miriam Altman of the University of Johannesburg’s College of Business and Economics said South Africa was battling with the culture of non-payment.
“It is extremely important that people pay for the services rendered so that the entire system works. Eskom needs the money so that further capacity can be developed,” said the academic.
She noted that while Eskom’s woes were primarily centred on lack of capacity and failure to report adequately, it was equally important that the power utility was paid by its customers.
Attempts to get comment from Msunduzi mayor Mzi Thebolla and the other municipalities were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, the MEC also expressed concern about service delivery and other mandates in municipalities where there had been no outright winner in last November’s elections
“Compared to the 2016 local government elections, last year’s municipal polls have thus yielded an unprecedented high number of hung municipal councils in KZN. As a result, coalitions between and/or among political parties have become imperative in order to constitute working majorities in councils,” said Hlomuka.
He added that the lack of consensus and insufficient co-operation within such councils was likely to be a dominant factor that could affect council decision-making and leadership, and potentially result in divided and dysfunctional councils, thus negatively affecting service delivery.