Residents added that even if they were employed, they were still not able to afford the R260 surcharge

Picture: Soraya Crowie

CITY residents who are opposed to the implementation of the controversial R260 electricity levy and high power tariffs are preparing to apply for an urgent interdict against the Sol Plaatje Municipality in the Northern Cape High Court tomorrow.

In a massive show of force, communities marched to the Sol Plaatje municipal offices yesterday to voice their displeasure over the electricity surcharge along with the 5.9% price hike that will come into effect on Monday.

They accused the executive mayor, Mangaliso Matika, of being “arrogant and rude” and not caring about the people.

“Matika must follow in former President Jacob Zuma’s footsteps and step down. The chief financial officer, Lydia Mahloko, must also resign because she is taking decisions without consultation.”

Placards called for the municipality to sell the mayor’s Audi Q7 as ratepayers had been saddled with the bill.

“Enough is enough, we are sick and tired of being taken for a ride. They continue to insult us and are blatantly abusing their power. The mayoral committee is incompetent. It is a myth that we will pay less for electricity with the new tariffs.”

March organiser Pantsi Obusitse stated that the municipality had until tomorrow to resolve the crisis.

“Electricity is too expensive for consumers and businesses.”

The memorandum handed over to the municipality included demands for the scrapping of price hikes on electricity, an exemption for all residents from the R260 surcharge and a prohibition on tuck shops overcharging for prepaid vouchers

Obusitse spoke out against the “aggression” aimed at community members, who indicated that rubber bullets were fired at them at the meeting point at the Kemo Hotel yesterday morning.

He also called for the contract that was entered into with a public relations company to promote the new tariff structure to be terminated with immediate effect.

“This company made use of EPWP workers to hand out flyers and falsely inform the public that the march would not be taking place today. They also sent out SMS messages on behalf of the municipality.”

Indigents meanwhile pointed out that the 50 kilowatts of power that they received free of charge was not even enough to last them for three days.

“Once it is used, we have to buy prepaid electricity.”

Residents added that even if they were employed, they were still not able to afford the R260 surcharge.

DA councillor Ofentse Mokae indicated that the appointment of the public relations company was never presented before council.

“It must be disclosed how much has been paid to this company, who appointed this service provider and if any advance payments have been made because this tender was never advertised. The chief financial officer must provide council with a detailed report. The company was hastily appointed when they noticed the outrage from the community. This matter must be investigated by the Hawks.”

Mokae added that the company that was contracted to do “damage control” had created more confusion with the distribution of their pamphlets and flyers that carried contradictory messages.

“There was no need to hire a PR company when there is a fully-fledged communications team, a manager in the Mayor’s Office and spokespersons employed at the municipality.”

The owner of the public relations company stated on social media that there was a “direct attack on her integrity as an entrepreneur”.

“I will not allow cheap sensation to discredit my brand. I did not charge Sol Plaatje Municipality
R1.2 million. My rates are in line with standard communication rates.”

The mayor indicated that they were waiting for the administration to report back and “to clarify the matter” of the public relations company.

Matika explained that the new tariffs were in line with Nersa regulations and stated that it was being implemented in order to keep the municipality financially viable.

“We do not want to find ourselves in a situation where ratepayers are left without power because we cannot pay Eskom.”

Matika also pointed out that communities such as Ritchie, where consumers purchased electricity directly from Eskom at a lower rate, were “instigating unrest” among other communities.

He appealed to the public not to direct their anger against the municipal manager and the chief financial officer.

“Council as a collective decided upon the new electricity tariffs.”

Matika also condemned the
3 500 houses that were sourcing electricity illegally.

“It is a criminal offence and dangerous to tamper with the power connections. In Platfontein, the majority of households are not paying for electricity. One house has a electricity connection that provides 20 other families with power. When it rains, I get worried that the people will get shocked.”

Meanwhile, residents in Galeshewe were aggrieved that rubber bullets were fired at them before and after the march had concluded.

“Not all of us were able to take part in the march so we decided to barricade Nobengula Street with rocks and burning tyres in protest of the high electricity tariffs.”

They also stated that their cellphones were confiscated by the police, where video footage of the skirmish with SAPS members was apparently deleted.

Police spokesperson, Colonel Mohale Ramatseba, said that the police intervened due to incidents of public violence and contravention of the National Road Traffic Act

“The police acted swiftly in preventing people who attempted to burn a truck along the R31 near the new prison.

“Police also fired rubber bullets when tyres were burnt outside the entrance of Tswelopele Correctional Centre. No protesters were allowed to burn tyres at the municipality.”

Ramatseba said that minimum force was used to disperse protesters who had obstructed the road.

”No reports were received by police of any person who might have sustained injuries during the protests. No complaints were received from any person about the deleting of footage from cellphones of members of the community by the police.”

Ramatseba stated that the march was conducted peacefully.

“Residents are urged not to resort to violence and the burning of road infrastructure or any infrastructure but should resort to resolving issues in an amicable manner.”