Cape Town - 121022 - South African power utility Eskom has applied to more than double the price of its electricity over the next five years. The state-owned utility said it has applied for a 16 percent annual increase for five years from April 2013 to March 2018. Many South Africans are struggling with the current cost of electricity. Pictured is teacher Michael Guzana with his son Hluma Guzana. Reporter: Yolisa Tswana PICTURE: SUPPLIED

Pretoria - Power utility Eskom loses millions of rand a year because of illegal buying and selling of prepaid electricity vouchers. It has now come up with creative ways to stop the rot and bring the fraudsters to book.

Illegal buying and selling of prepaid electricity is called ghost vending, and Eskom’s senior manager for energy trading, Maboe Maphaka, says the utility loses at least R350 million a year to the practice.

The problem started with the introduction of prepaid electricity vending machines, he said, with a stand-alone system where consumers could buy tokens from vending machines in shops.

“When the tokens had run out a supervisor would upload credit. So people realised they could make money out of the system and stole the vending machines. But they also needed corrupt Eskom employees to help them load the credit,” he said.

The stand-alone vending machines have now been stopped. Some 20 machines have been recovered, but at last count three years ago there were still 58 vending machines not recovered, but not all of them were still active.

To fight ghost vending, Eskom started a pilot project in Limpopo last year to monitor meters. “The meters no longer accept tokens from the stand-alone vending machines. If a customer has loaded electricity from stand-alone meters, we remove all his credit and disconnect the electricity. To reconnect, they have to pay a fine.”

Since the project started last year, Eskom has issued fines of almost R3.7 million to customers.

Investigating teams removed 940 669 ghost units from prepaid meters in the province, recovering R1.3m worth of revenue that would have been lost. Some 815 households and 200 businesses were disconnected, 21 ghost vending-related arrests made, and 12 cases opened. Fifteen people were arrested for illegal connections and meter tampering.

Because of the project’s success, it will now be rolled out nationally. City spokesman Selby Bokaba said the capital has so far not had any ghost vending.

Pretoria News