Johannesburg - Power outages, water disruptions and freezing temperatures have led to a series of protests in Soweto this week.
The past three days have seen frustrated residents of Dube, Orlando, White City, Mapetla, Pimville and Zondi blocking roads with tyres and rocks in the evenings and in the mornings in protest over a series of power outages that have left some without power for days.
In some parts of the township, motorists had to pay R10 in order for their cars to pass through areas where there were protests.
Residents complained over a poor billing system and old unserviced infrastructure.
The community also disputed the figure of R18 billion that Soweto reportedly owed Eskom.
Taxis and buses have had to take detours over the past few days in avoidance of the protests.
Speaking on behalf of the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, King Sibiya said Soweto was being targeted by Eskom because of the enormous debt the area had incurred over the years.
He said residents wanted to understand where the gigantic figure came from.
“They must tell us how they calculated that money because there are government buildings and malls in Soweto so they must tell us what we owe as residents and not just throw a figure at us,” Sibiya said.
He complained of poor service delivery in the area and old infrastructure that was unmaintained among other things. Sibiya, however, condemned the destruction of municipal property by protesting residents.
“We ask our people not to destroy things but let’s organise and see how we can deal with this together but we need the very same things that we are destroying.”
Sibiya said the crisis committee had approached the Public Protector’s office over the issue of Soweto electricity problems. He said the community was willing to pay R150 flat rate.
“They don’t want to engage with us but we are willing to pay around R100 per house so we can close our debt maybe they can start taking us seriously,” Sibiya said.
He said the statements that Soweto residents wanted free electricity were false. At the same time Sibiya said most of the people in Soweto could not afford electricity.
Joburg metro police spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said police had a tough week with protests in Soweto.
“Today we have protests in Dube but it has been difficult for our officers they have had to move from one protest to another; they have had to clear Elias Motsoaledi after that they had to go clear Chris Hani Road, it’s been really difficult,” he said.
Energy expert Ted Blom said Soweto debt went as far back as 1985. He said Eskom had to first fix the billing problem before charging the people of Soweto for electricity.
“I was at Eskom at the time Soweto used to belong to the city then the government gave it to Eskom because they had lots of money at the time but the problem with Soweto is that the metering is stuffed up and they have block metering, people have lost jobs who is going to pay for wrong billing?”
Blom accused Eskom of being racist. He said Eskom had been load reducing in townships for the past six months.
“They don’t do that in affluent areas, only in the townships that’s apartheid,” Blom said.
In a statement, the utility said it was aware of the power outages in Soweto and blamed vandalism and electricity theft for the problem.
The Star contacted Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha but his phone remained unanswered.