Linda Simon depends on her gas stove, but says other residents cannot afford to do the same.
Durban - THROWING away packets filled with spoilt food, having to endure cold baths and walking up flights of stairs in the dark has become a daily nightmare for the residents of the historical Pioneer Lodge in the Durban CBD area.

The 90-year-old building, once a popular hotel on Tyzack Street, is home to mostly senior citizens.

Last week, residents found themselves in darkness after their electricity was cut off because of a R1.8 million unpaid utility bill which had been in arrears for about six years.

The electricity was reconnected on Friday, but residents say it is just a matter of time before the lights go out again.

Long-time resident and flat owner, Linda Simon said after their electricity was disconnected last September, the body corporate installed prepaid meters in November.

“We were happy but that did not last long. In January the electricity was cut off for nine days. We had kept our food thinking the electricity would return, but after a week everything began to rot, and it all had to be thrown away.

“We have prepaid meters. We feel deceived as we were made to believe that we could still have electricity while the electricity arrears was being sorted out.”

Simon’s husband, Patrick, said the levy bill was still from the “apartheid time”, and included the rates, sewerage, water and electricity.

“We don’t have the rates and sewerage separated from the utility amount. So every month we just get a figure to pay. Besides spending money on a prepaid meter we are also paying for electricity in the levy, which is very unfair.”

He added that an AGM had not been held since 2013. “We need resolutions as we cannot go on suffering and forking out money that many people who are pensioners cannot afford to be wasting.”

Another resident claimed it was fraud and deception.

“We cannot be blamed for the mismanagement. Why did they leave the arrears to accumulate? Why were the people who failed to pay levies not taken to task? And now we have to suffer.

“I am spending between R400 and R600 a month on prepaid, plus the levy and there still isn’t any electricity. We want our electricity to be directly connected to the municipality.”

Lindi Pretorius, a tenant for the past five years, said life had become difficult when the electricity was disconnected because her asthmatic husband used an oxygen machine.

“We live on the third floor and because we don’t have functional elevators, after climbing the stairs my husband needs to use the machine. This is at least two or three times a day.

“We even had an incident earlier when he had to be taken to the hospital after suffering an attack at night. It is unfair on us, who make sure that we pay our rent on time,” she said.

Another resident said her 74-year-old mother, who recently underwent a spinal operation, had to bath in cold water.

“We cannot afford to buy gas cylinders and stoves, so we are forced to have a cold bath, which is really unfair. I hate to see my mother suffering because of this.”

The chairman of the flat’s board of directors, Niren Naidoo, said the arrears were due to the operational costs of about R187 000 a month.

“We could not meet that amount due to levies not being paid. We received about R100 000 in a ‘good month’, but that still left us with a deficit of R87 000 and, with interest accumulating, we hit a staggering R1.8 million. Even though we had a credit agreement with the municipality, it was still impossible to meet the agreed amount and the electricity was disconnected.

“We held a special general meeting but because of a division between the board and a group called concerned shareholders, we could not come to a suitable agreement. It was proposed that the amount owing be divided between the 80 units,” he said.

Naidoo added that a special general meeting was expected to be held on Friday.

“We need to discuss how we are going go forward, so we can find a solution.”

eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela confirmed that the electricity was disconnected because of the non-payment of the arrears.