WATCH: Homeowners march to Tshwane House demand City suspend newly appointed debt collectors
Pretoria - Tshwane homeowners are up in arms and marched to Tshwane House demanding the City suspend its newly appointed municipal debt collectors until it does actual meter readings.
Elderly, poor, sickly and disabled homeowners from various parts of Tshwane gathered in Marabastad for the protest that sought to call out the municipality for unfairly billing residents on estimates and sending debt collectors to harass them.
The march attracted a crowd of all races, representing all townships and suburbs under a common goal to get the City to first do actual water and electricity meter readings and make corrections before its debt collectors start threatening people and forcing them to make payment arrangements.
The Inwooners Baagi Civil Movement led the crowd that wants the new administration led by mayor Randall Williams to acknowledge that the municipality was wrong for billing people on estimates for over 36 months while the Municipal Structures Act dictates that it can only bill on estimate for two months but the third month bill must be advised by actual meter readings.
Secretary-general of the movement Jomo Rapholo said Tshwane recently announced that it appointed 34 debt collecting agencies to collect over R12 billion in unpaid debt for municipal services within four days, but those bills were illegally informed because it has not consistently done actual meter readings.
He said the protest was about the people basically instructing the Tshwane council to make a resolution on this matter this coming Thursday when they meet or alternately the people will take the City to court where it will be forced to put its debt collectors on a leash until it has done actually meter readings before its debt collectors ruin people's credit with inaccurate bills.
Rapholo said the movement wants all homeowners and ratepayers who were unfairly de-registered from the indigent laws since 2016 to be reinstated before the beginning of December.
He said: "A memorandum must be placed on all accounts, freezing debt owed to the municipality pending recalculation of all accounts, factoring in that those removed from the indigent laws are reinstated and the final bills are advised by actual readings.
"What the City is doing is traumatising our elderly residents who are being harassed and intimidated with threats by uncaring debt collectors. Look now the elderly are here because they are afraid and they think they'll lose their homes. We cannot allow this to happen.
"Ever since 2016, the City has not been pro-poor and our people have been feeling neglected and uncared for. We are not saying people must not pay, no. We want to pay, but we must pay for something that is real. The City must now show that it cares about the people and go and do actual readings so that people know exactly what they owe."
Rapholo said the City didn't even offer homeowners and ratepayers Covid-19 relief discounts knowing that about 20% of them lost their jobs due to the pandemic, but the City just expects them to pay.
He said the painful thing was that these debt collectors were privately owned and were going to collect more than what the people were supposed to pay the City.
"We are tired of funding capitalistic programmes. We are saying let the City come with a programme that is functional and then we will support it. Should the City not respond by Thursday, we are taking legal action against the mayor and the entire City of Tshwane," he added.
The people also demanded that the City stop stalling on the formalisation of informal settlements because that creates an unfair imbalance in the collection of rates and taxes, while depriving informal settlers security of property and access to basic municipal services.