Sowetans should allow Eskom officials to install pre-paid meters in communities or risk being cut off from power supply this winter, Eskom said yesterday.
Eskom Gauteng spokesperson Amanda Qithi said the utility’s workers were being threatened and, in some cases, beaten by community members for trying to install meters in the township.
Qithi said this week the community of Moletsane in Soweto intimidated Eskom technicians when they tried installing meters. She said that area was a non-paying area and Eskom had no choice but to move the community from conventional electricity to split metering.
Qithi said it was the second time that the community of Moletsane chased Eskom workers away. She said Eskom would have no choice but to turn the lights off if community members did not comply. The Star understands that Soweto already owed Eskom about R4 billion. The last debt Soweto had which also rose to over R1bn had been written off by the power utility.
“If they don’t allow us to convert them, we will unfortunately switch off supply. We are installing split meters all over Gauteng, we are converting all our customers who are on conventional to pre-paid. So, it’s just not in Soweto or in Moletsane,” Qithi said.
Qithi said Soweto should not think of itself as being different from other poor townships in the province. She said debt collection was important for the smooth running of the power utility. She said the advantage of pre-paid meters was that customers would be able to manage their electricity usage.
“Eskom is a business and we have to spend money to generate electricity. We cannot as Eskom provide free electricity. Giving free electricity to Soweto that we cannot do. The question would be why Soweto and not other townships,” Qithi said.
She said there was a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the City and Eskom to have Soweto moved to the supply of City Power. She said this arrangement was still in the process. The Star understands that the idea to move Soweto to the supply of City Power had been spearheaded by the ANC administration, but the process had lost traction since the ANC was removed from the seat of power.
“The city has asked us to give them time to do whatever needs to be done to complete the process. We are waiting for them to provide us with the status of how far they are,” Qithi said.
A leader of the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, Trevor Ngwane, accused Eskom of targeting the poor. He said while Eskom operated like a business it also had a social mandate as a state company.
Ngwane said he believed that Eskom was not even sure how much Soweto owed and described the parastatal as merely bullying the poor. He said in situations where communities were strong and undivided Eskom was unable to install the pre-paid meters.
“This is 10 years of them trying to install meters in Soweto. I had thought Eskom had given up on this, they are intent on squeezing blood from a stone, people are unemployed and those in the townships get poor services,” Ngwane said.
A few days ago, Soweto residents protested outside the office of the Joburg mayor Mpho Phalatse. They complained about regular blackouts and poor service delivery. The townships had been the worst hit in terms of load reduction due to non-payment and other factors.