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Eskom blocked from cutting power

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The court ordered that pending the finalisation of the review, Eskom had to undertake not to interrupt or terminate the electricity supply to the three municipalities

According to Eskom, load shedding is a means to protect South Africa's electricity system. File picture: Karen Sandison/ANA

THREE of four Northern Cape municipalities facing power cuts have indicted Eskom to prevent the power utility’s planned power interruptions.

Eskom announced earlier that it would implement power cuts in Siyathemba Local Municipality (Prieska), Renosterberg (Van der Kloof, Phillipstown and Petrusville), Tsantsabane (Postmasburg) and Phokwane (Jan Kempdorp, Hartswater and Ganspan).

OVK Operations brought an urgent interdict, which was heard on Monday in the Northern Cape High Court against Eskom, as well as Thembelihle Local Municipality, Renosterberg Local Municipality, Siyathemba Local Municipality, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa, the Minister of Energy, the Minister of Public Enterprises, and the Northern Cape MEC for Co-operative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs.

The court ordered that pending the finalisation of the review, Eskom had to undertake not to interrupt or terminate the electricity supply to the three municipalities.

In his affidavit, Dirk Postma du Plessis, the manager of legal services for OVK Operations, pointed out that on November 23, Eskom published a notice indicating that it would introduce interruptions of the bulk supply of electricity to various municipalities, including Thembelihle, Renosterberg and Siyathemba in an effort to collect the electricity debt which it is owed.

“The interruptions threaten the very fibre of society: Hospitals will be unable to function properly, business and industry will be disrupted, the water system (including the sewerage network) will shut down and cannot immediately be turned back on, schools will not be able to function properly without electricity, children will have no electricity to do their homework or get ready for school and industry will be forced to shut down,” the affidavit states.

It adds that it has become clear that the three municipalities concerned, as is the position with many other municipalities in the country, are unable to comply with their obligations towards Eskom and are delinquent (in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act).

“The three municipalities are clearly unable to pay the debt in question: which in the case of Thembelihle is R56 280 923, in the case of Renosterberg is R59 873 283 and in the case of Siyathemba it is R30 394 646.

“There is simply no rationale in the decision, because the three municipalities will not be in a better position to pay their electricity bills if Eskom implements the interruption decision but will in fact be in a worse position.”

Portion

In the case of Thembelihle, a portion of the debt has been outstanding for four years, while Renosterberg has been outstanding since March 2010 and Siyathemba since October 2015.

“It is clear that the three municipalities have persistently failed to pay their debts, are delinquent and are unable to pay their indebtedness.”

The affidavit adds that in terms of the Public Finance Management Act, Eskom is obliged to collect the amounts owing for monthly bills promptly as and when they become due.

The interruptions were scheduled to commence yesterday (December 11) initially for four and a half hours a day, Mondays to Fridays, and five hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays for the first week, thereafter (during the second week) for six and a half hours a day on Monday to Friday and nine and a half hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays. During the third week interruptions would have been for 14 hours a day.

“Eskom has emphasised in the notice that it will continue imposing such interruptions indefinitely and may even terminate the electricity supply to the three municipalities entirely should the indebtedness not improve.

A similar application was also granted by Judge Lawrence Lever on December 7 against Eskom in favour of the Vaalharts Ratepayers Association to prevent the power utility from cutting electricity to Phokwane Municipality.

The applicant represents a group of individuals, including ratepayers, employers and residents of the town.

It was pointed out that the members of the ratepayers association dutifully and regularly pay all of the amounts currently owing to the Phokwane Municipality in respect of electricity charges.

“While there is irreparable harm in the first two weeks, this goes up an order of magnitude in the third week when the power interruption is for 14 hours, including peak hours. Businesses will be unable to function and will have to consider retrenchments in an economic climate where unemployment is a critical national problems.”

It points out that the municipality will not have the capacity to pump water to the reservoirs, while it will also result in blockages in the sewerage system.

The provincial acting spokesperson for Eskom, Titi Makhetha, yesterday confirmed that the power at one out of the four municipalities, namely Tsantsabane, was successfully interrupted at 6am yesterday.

“The municipalities that were due for bulk electricity supply interruption today (yesterday) are Renosterberg, Siyathemba, Phokwane and Tsantsabane Local Municipality. Eskom was then interdicted by three municipalities yesterday – Renosterberg, Siyathemba and Phokwane. However, Tsantsabane Municipality was successfully interrupted this morning at 6am.

“Eskom has complied with the court ruling; details relating to the court order can be obtained from the three municipalities,” she added.

It was initially communicated by Eskom that eight municipalities were set to face power disruptions, however, four of these have adhered to the payment plan. These include Magareng, Thembelihle, Nama Khoi, and Siyancuma.