Struggling Pietermaritzburg YMCA begs council to restore power despite R2m bill
Durban - A global non-profit organisation that has helped feed and shelter the homeless during the lockdown in Pietermaritzburg has suffered a huge setback after the municipality disconnected its electricity last week.
The fate of the Pietermaritzburg YMCA – a youth empowerment organisation that has been servicing the capital city for 145 years – hangs in the balance if it cannot find at least R320 000 to have the electricity reconnected.
The Msunduzi Municipality switched the lights off because the YMCA had not paid its bill for the past three months.
Now, the YMCA faces further loss in funding as its tenants cannot function without electricity and may abandon the organisation.
The municipality said it could not reconnect the YMCA unless it paid its account in full, as the credit-control policy stipulated.
In a written communication with the chief executive of the Pietermaritzburg YMCA, Clinton George, city manager Madoda Khathide said that the credit-control policy was very clear in cases of defaulting consumers and that the YMCA’s acknowledgement of debt resulting from the lockdown made it a potential candidate for the termination of its existing payment arrangement.
“I am not going to reconnect the electricity in your facility sir, unless you pay what is due. I’m battling to pay Eskom, Umgeni and other creditors. You saw on front-page news that we are accused of mismanaging the city and I have committed to rectifying these by the end of September 2020,” Kathide wrote to George.
George said their finances hit rock bottom when the lockdown started in March as the Y-Fit gym had to close in keeping with the risk-adjusted regulations.
Since all of the funds raised through gym membership fees went to the YMCA, the organisation suffered a huge financial loss from that alone as most clients cancelled their memberships.
Then, the University of KwaZulu-Natal notified them it would not pay its R150 000 monthly rent for the student hostels as the students were not occupying the space.
George explained that, in 2018, the YMCA signed an acknowledgement of debt with the municipality after it began experiencing financial difficulties two years earlier when UKZN did not renew its lease for student hostels for a year.
The YMCA offered to pay R10 000 monthly toward its R2m debt with the municipality – a promise it had not defaulted on since then.
“Every month, diligently, we paid R10 000 toward out debt. This payment was done over and above our monthly electricity bill.
“When Covid-19 hit, there was no cash flow from the gym, no rental from UKZN, and that affected us badly. I wrote to the municipality explaining our situation and offered that we still commit to paying R10 000 toward our previous debt, but pleaded that they allow us some leeway in paying the current account.
“I asked if we could, after lockdown, sign a new acknowledgement of debt and work towards paying that off,” George said.
However, after receiving no word from the municipality, the building’s electricity was disconnected last Tuesday.
George said the YMCA was a respected entity in Pietermaritzburg and had offered many services to the community over the years.
It had 10 tenants, a gym and an indoor sports centre. He said the indoor sports centre also generated some income but had to be closed since the electricity was disconnected.
“This disconnection has affected every other stream of income we were relying on. We could not pay salaries to our 26 staff this month.
“I explained to the municipality that we only had R16 000 in our bank account and we were willing to pay R15 000 towards our debt now if they reconnected us, but they refused,” George said.