Soweto residents up in arms over electricity disconnections

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Some Soweto residents are up in arms over electricity disconnections. 99% of the country’s biggest township gets its power directly from Eskom.

Almost 200 000 households have pre-paid meters. Eskom says 60% of these households are guilty of some form of tampering.

The power utility is disconnecting them. Sixty-three year old pensioner Maki Moholisa has been using a prepaid-meter for three years.

However, she has regrets. “At least before you could just have electricity and pay the amount that you can afford (before), now prepaid, if you don’t have money, you cannot have electricity.”

Many with prepaid meters have been red-flagged. The power utility is moving against residents who they say have tampered with meters, or who are guilty of what it calls ‘poor buying”‘.

The 47 year old Mphumzeni Gasa said he was caught unaware. “I feel aggrieved; I feel that we’ve been treated unfairly and singled out for whatever reasons that perhaps Eskom knows.”

He has rejected Eskom’s claim of ‘poor buying.’ “They said no it’s because we’re buying lower (units) than their expectations which again is worrying and concerning, what are their expectations? This is a pre-paid metre.”

Eskom insists the household used more power than it paid for, and says the family refused auditors access to the pre-paid meter. An allegation Gasa has dismissed. Many others are also angry about the disconnections.

Emotions boiled over in Protea Glen streets overnight. They have to pay a R6 000 reconnection fee. “I get a R1 400 grant, where am I going to get R6 000?”

Eskom says the R6000 is a fixed reconnection fee meant as a deterrent and to cover operational costs.

The power utility acknowledges that the meters are not tamper-proof and that some employees may be complicit. “We continuously monitor the revenue, and part of this is looking at sales and where we have the biggest chunk of energy losses, and in such areas we then say how do we curb the losses, and the first step is to stop the bleeding, like those customers that are drawing the energy without paying for it, we have to terminate those people so that we can free the system and service customers that are paying,” says Gauteng Eskom spokesperson, Refiloe Semenya.

Poor families are encouraged to approach their municipality. “We encourage you to go there, register yourself as indigence. They will obviously look at the policy to see if you do qualify and if you do qualify you will then be able to get the benefit on a monthly basis.”

Most Soweto residents remain fiercely opposed to pre-paid meters. The township owes Eskom R18 billion.