Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Johannesburg - The 15 percent per annum tariff increase over three years requested by state power utility Eskom will raise the cost of living for the poor to unbearable levels if granted, the main opposition Democratic Alliance said on Friday.

The DA picketed against the proposal at the start of public hearings in Soweto being held by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa), which must approve or deny Eskom's application. The hearings for Gauteng province are the last leg of a nationwide exercise Nersa has undertaken.

Such a steep hike would also hit small businesses by pushing input costs higher and putting pressure on their profitability and sustainability, said Natasha Mazzone, the DA's spokeperson on state capture.

Eskom is at the centre of a probe by a state capture commission into allegations of corruption and governance failures at state institutions.

The DA says the utility's financial woes, which prompted the application to sharply raise tariffs, are the result of years of mismanagement and corruption by senior company executives and the governing African National Congress.

"The public should not have to foot the bill for the ineffectiveness and corruption of the failing ANC government," Mazzone said. 

The DA has developed the Independent System Market Operator Bill which would seek to break Eskom into two separate generation and transmission entities.

"Our offer would see some of the generation entity privatized in an effort to break Eskom’s monopoly, allowing private entities to compete on an equal footing," Mazzone said.

"It will also allow well-functioning metros to apply to enter into agreements with electricity generators directly, giving them scope to choose who supplies them with electricity and reduce the risk of load shedding."

Load shedding refers to scheduled power cuts such as those Eskom was forced to implement last year to avoid tripping the national grid due to demand overwhelming electricity supply.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) also planned to stage a picket with community organizations in Soweto on Friday to oppose Eskom's request.

African News Agency/ANA