For The People

The city under a power seige

How the spark has left the city

By Noni Dondolo

A dark cloud looms over the Sol Plaatje Municipality, a total of 1,985 meter blockages have been reported by the Municipal Spokesperson Thoko Riet this past Friday.

Residents have put forward a prolonged and persistent effort to oppose such infringements of their rights.

This comes in an attempt to settle the outstanding debt with Eskom. In the past year, Sol Plaatje Municipality has not met the required collection rate target of 87% which ensures the municipality remains liquid and can operate at optimum productivity.

It, in fact, has been underperforming and has seen the collection rates plummeting to 42% at the top of the year.

As of September 2020, which saw an increase in the collection rate by 25 percent, the total outstanding amount owed to Eskom stands at a whopping R154 million.

In 2018, the Sol Plaatje Municipality imposed a monthly R260 tariff, which was received with much pushback from the residents and prompted the mobilization of all affected communities resulting in a two-part mass strike, #TheKimberleyShutdown in 2018.

With recent reports from Eskom CEO, Andre de Ruyter that Sol Plaatje Municipality has the highest mark-up in the country standing at a staggering 84%.

Sol Plaatje Municipality is licensed to purchase electricity from Eskom and via 66kV, 11Kv and low voltage electrical network. It has two bulk electricity supply points which supply the Kimberley area and the Riverton Substation although demarcated, Eskom supplies Ritchie with electricity as well.

Kimberley, in conjunction with these neighbouring towns, is plagued with poverty and unemployment with thousands of households relying on grants in a city already struggling to keep their heads above water… the strain will be immeasurable.

Sol Plaatje Municipality mayor, Patrick Mabilo has since denied the mark-up and maintains its 26 percent mark-up. The Municipality will however seek confirmation from Nersa and Eskom although the effects on the ground are undeniable.

The municipal spokesperson has urged residents from low income households, child-headed households and those with compelling circumstances to register as indigents as a means of relief.

The Indigent Support provides a subsidy of, amongst many things, the first 50Kwh free electricity per month and 6kl of water. Yet the municipality still has systems in place through its Information Technology department as well as their prepaid electricity vendor, Ontec, to activate partial blocking. They would be permitted to withhold 10% from indigent accounts and 30% for non-indigent accounts. An already mismanaged and maladministration subsidy is about to suffer a surge in its number of dependents spreading themselves paper thin.

The socio-economic ramifications from such exorbitant electricity fees will see many businesses close up shop- as commercial users are R435.9 million in debt- which in turn has a negative impact on the city’s economy and will see hundreds and thousands more residents retrenched and left without employment which then aids the vicious cycle of inter-generational municipal debt.

“The municipality through the office of the mayor called a virtual meeting sometime last month to brief stakeholders on the alleged 84 percent mark-up and presented financial reports which had discrepancies, for instance the reports did not reflect on its losses of over R100 million that the municipality incurs annually in the sale of electricity that they buy from Eskom that then vanished” says Tumelo Mosikare, community builder and one of the organisers of The Total Kimberley Shutdown.

“Councillors approve the budget and by virtue of that basically set the price of electricity, ” says Mosikare. These are all indicators of tension building up on the ground; residents are running out of patience as uncertainty looms over the city’s power”, he adds.

When asked to predict the blow back from a disgruntled and underserved community and if he sees the events of June 2018 rearing their ugly heads once more, Tumelo Mosikare says “Next year presents all Kimberlites, residents of Riverton and Ritchie, all residents of Sol Plaatje with an unique opportunity to strike with a pen instead of putting the city at risk by negatively affecting the limping economy through protest.

The city is facing the full might of the law and the wrath of its citizens, questions is how much longer they can keep the lid on a boiling pot.

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