Johannesburg faces possibility of a black Christmas as City Power struggles to pay contractors

Electricity pylons carry power from Cape Town's Koeberg nuclear power plant. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA ENERGY BUSINESS)

Electricity pylons carry power from Cape Town's Koeberg nuclear power plant. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA ENERGY BUSINESS)

Published Dec 2, 2022

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Johannesburg - The City of Johannesburg is in a crisis and might not be able to keep the lights on in different parts of the city this festive season as subcontractors doing business with the municipality's power utility, City Power, refuse to work without payment.

The Star understands that the subcontractors have not been paid in at least three months because the city simply has no money to pay them. Most of the subcontractors have had to take out loans to ensure the survival of their businesses, but some have complained to The Star that they will be having a dark Christmas should they not receive their payments.

The co-owner of a company that subcontracted with City Power told The Star that workers had even threatened to confiscate office equipment if they were not paid before Christmas. The businesswoman, who asked not to be named out of fear of victimisation, said the situation was so bad she actually received a call from the family of one of her employees demanding money.

"This child called me and said I am the reason he does not have shoes because his father has not been paid for months. What do I say to that child? This is a terrible situation. The city keeps telling us we will be paid on different dates, but it never happens," she said.

The businesswoman said she was owed around R1 million by City Power. She said she had no choice but to tell her employees to down tools until there is clarity on the payments from City Power.

"They cannot keep the lights on in Johannesburg without us. The south was dark for a number of days, and they took time fixing the problems because they do not have capacity," she said.

The Star understands that the situation with the payment of contracts in the City of Johannesburg is so bad that Metro buses in the coming few days will not be able to afford diesel for their buses. Contractors with the Human Settlements department would also not be able to complete housing projects because of issues with the non-payment of service providers.

The multiparty government has been quoted on numerous occasions as saying there is no service delivery crisis, just a "cash flow mismatch," but residents are starting to feel the pinch of the mismatch.

The mayor of Johannesburg, Mpho Phalatse, has failed, on numerous occasions, to get a R2 billion short-term loan approved in council. She had said this loan would enable the municipality to meet its commitments to service providers, but the opposition bloc in council has, in large numbers, opposed the loan.

It was still not clear how the city would meet its financial commitments, but the multiparty government said all city employees would receive their salaries and a 13th cheque.

Meanwhile, in a statement, City Power said it had deployed a large contingent of electricians to ensure that the city’s power grid is stable despite some contractors downing tools.

"City Power will, on Thursday, December 1, deploy 52 newly appointed electricians to lessen the entity’s reliance on contractors and foster area-specific accountability in the Johannesburg power network," the entity said in a statement.

According to the statement, the electricians will be posted in problem-prone sections of the City Power network and assume direct responsibility for sections of the grid.

"Whereas previously contractors were haphazardly employed by City Power to rectify outages and resolve long-term issues, the newly appointed electricians will foster a better understanding of issues and build up a body of knowledge specific to their area," the entity said.

The Star

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