Alan Govender pays R3 000 in cash after his electricity was disconnected last week.
Durban - AS MORE residents come forward to express their concern over their high utility bills, questions have emerged as to why the eThekwini Municipality’s payment offices have no debit card machines.

This has resulted in them carrying large amounts of cash to Sizakala customer service centres, which is paid directly to clerks at the cash desk.

Alan Govender, 48, went to the Tongaat Sizakala centre on Thursday with R3 000 and waited his turn for a clerk to attend to him.

The centre deals with municipal registrations, queries and payments. The cash counting machines were visible at each counter.

He earlier deposited R2 000 to have his lights switched back on but the payment failed to reflect and his bill still reflected the initial amount of R10 000.

Govender was left with no option but to fork out the R3 000 so that the power would be restored.

“Firstly, parking is an issue here. I had to park at Shoprite and had to walk past a busy taxi rank to get here. I didn’t feel safe but I had no choice,” said Govender.

“I cannot understand why these centres don’t provide debit and credit card machines. We get billed unreasonably high amounts and are expected to come carrying cash.”

A woman who sat nearby said she carried her monthly pension in a little purse that she hid in her clothing.

DA councillor Dolly Munian, whose office is based at the centre, said the dangerous environment was cause for concern.

“Criminals hide at the taxi rank and wait for opportunities to steal. A card-paying system must be installed, especially in areas where thievery is known to be rife.”

She said several pensioners had been robbed of the money intended to pay their utility accounts.

Rajesh Pillay, of Reservoir Hills, who uses the customer service centre in Pinetown, said the situation there was the same.

A municipal cash clerk said on average they cashed up around R100 000 a day.

“Sometimes it is much more,” he said.

“Businessmen who own multiple buildings come in to settle their accounts. Having a card facility will be a big help because there’s also little security here if anything goes wrong.”

Meanwhile, Samantha Mudly, a bank manager who has a utility bill of more than R250 000, said she was contemplating selling her home in Tongaat to settle the account.

Mudly, who is four months pregnant, said she had been running around in circles trying to rectify the incorrect billing amount.

“The city is blaming the bungle on the RMS (revenue management system).”

She said her household’s monthly water and electricity account averaged R2 500.

“But in a short space of time it escalated to R122 000 and eventually R250 000.”

Daya Iyer, 44, of Montford, Chatsworth, had a bill for R110 000. When he queried the amount, he was advised to continue paying the R2 500 his utility bill usually amounted to.

“They told me my account would be subject to an investigation, but I’m not sure how long it will take.

“If I don’t continue paying, then the lights will be disconnected.”

eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said: “The city is currently testing the card machines and these will be implemented in due course. In the meantime, customers are encouraged to use the third party agents and online payment facilities.”

Mayisela said he was unable to comment on whether the RMS system was to blame for the high electricity bills.

“This would require a more detailed, technical investigation.”

Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane said officers regularly conducted foot patrols and crime awareness initiatives near the centre in Tongaat. 

He said while cases of theft were not common, they received calls complaining of disturbance, “as people are known to get drunk and become a nuisance to the public”.