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Innocent citizens will suffer due to Eskom’s punitive blackout to non-paying municipality‚ court hears

The lives of scores of innocent citizens in eight municipalities that owe Eskom almost R700-million will be threatened and turned upside down if Eskom is allowed to cut electricity to them as a debt collection and credit control measure.

This is the main argument advanced by lobby group AfriForum in its Pretoria High Court bid to stop Eskom from cutting the electricity supply to the municipalities of Nala‚ Nketoana‚ Dihlabeng‚ Moqhaka ‚ Mantsopa‚ Mafube‚ Masilonyana and Tokologo.

On December 28‚ Eskom issued a notice that it will‚ for debt collection and control‚ terminate electricity supply to the municipalities on a structured basis as from Thursday‚ January 5.

According to Eskom’s plan‚ from Monday to Friday residents would be without electricity between 6am and 8am and again from 5pm to 7.30pm. On weekends power would be cut from 8.30am to 11am and also between 3pm and 5.30pm.

AfriForum argues that Eskom failed to exhaust other available debt collection and credit control avenues against the municipalities and instead sought to punish residents and local businesses for the failures of the municipalities.

The lobby group argues in court papers that the matrix of legislation applicable to the supply of bulk electricity by Eskom‚ as the only official bulk supplier to local authorities and therefore to residents of local authorities‚ did not allow for the termination of electricity supply to individual electricity users within the jurisdiction areas of local authorities.

“This is especially so if all the remedies referred to in the legislation have not been exhausted. In this instance‚ none of those remedies were exhausted‚” the group argued in papers before the court.

The group contends that it was indisputable that ordinary electricity users such as residents‚ businesses‚ essential services such as hospitals and municipal services such a water supply and traffic regulation were dependant on the provision of electricity by Eskom.

“The termination thereof as a debt collection and credit control measure will cause irreparable harm to the community as a whole that cannot be rectified after the fact. Irreparable harm even goes as far as being life threatening‚” said the group’s founding affidavit before Judge Hans Fabricius.

On Tuesday the Judge postponed the matter to Wednesday to allow himself time to read Eskom’s replying affidavit‚ which was filed on Monday night though Afri-Forum brought its urgent application on December 29.

Marcus Pawson‚ AfriForum’s head of local government unit‚ said the main application was set to be heard in March but they had to approach the court on an urgent basis after Eskom published a notice saying that it was going ahead with its planned blackout of the municipalities.

He said they want the court to stop Eskom from going ahead with its plan‚ pending the main application.

“The question that the court must deal with in the main application is whether electricity may be terminated as a debt collection and credit control measure‚” he said.

AfriForum’s contention is that the inefficiencies of government in all its spheres‚ and lack of proper compliance with the relevant legislation by Eskom and government in all its spheres‚ ought not be burdened on citizens who have no control and no effective means of forcing municipalities to comply with their payment obligations to Eskom.

The group further argues that the irreparable harm suffered by the residents of municipalities is self-evident.

“All economic activities is brought to a standstill … basic necessities such as washing‚ preparation of food and security caused by the lack of electricity both in homes and businesses in the area of jurisdiction of these municipalities are interrupted‚” its court papers stated.

In addition‚ the group laments that the national government are mere onlookers at the improper and unlawful treatment of residents in the municipalities.