Debts pile up at municipality - residents owe Madibeng R1-billion

Picture credit: SIMON MATHEBULA
Picture credit: SIMON MATHEBULA

Madibeng local municipality in North West - which two weeks ago escaped having the lights cut off by Eskom because it owes the utility millions - is itself owed more than R1-billion for rates and services by residents.

The debt-ridden municipality owed Eskom R90-million for unpaid electricity but staved off disconnection - due to have been effected on January 18 - after hurriedly making a R40-million payment to have services continued.

Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe confirmed that the utility had agreed to a payment plan with Madibeng to cover the remainder of the debt.

"Eskom has received payment of over R40-million from the Madibeng municipality, which is about half of its total debt of R90-million. The municipality has also signed a payment plan of how and when they'll pay the remaining amount going forward," said Phasiwe.

However, Madibeng's woes are far from over because, in addition to the Eskom debt, the municipality also owes the City of Tshwane a further R24.9-million (R7.1-million for electricity and R17.8-million for water).

Tshwane spokesman Samkelo Mgobozi said Madibeng had not agreed to any payment arrangement, adding that services to the North West municipality would only be restored once total payment was received.

But Madibeng local municipality spokesman Tumelo Tshabalala appeared to suggest that the municipality may not be in a position to pay its creditors. He said residents of the municipality were not paying their dues.

"The municipality is experiencing a very low pay rate from consumers - households, business and industries. In some areas [the] payment rate often sits at less than 20%."

The municipality made a call to all consumers with arrears to settle their accounts and for those who cannot do so at one go to enter into a payment agreement with the municipality to avoid disconnections. Illegal electricity connections have also not helped the situation.

"The municipality is currently owed over R1-billion for rates and services," said Tshabalala.

The lack of electricity supply is worsening another crisis - the haphazard provision of water.

Residents of Mmakau township - a 10-minute drive from Brits - cannot pump water from the three boreholes completed in November because Madibeng municipality has still not provided an electricity connection, resident Chris Mpye said.

Residents now rely on tankers to access water.

The process is proving lucrative for tanker owners, who are said to be paid R50000 a week to provide the area with water.

"Our municipality is failing us," said Mpye. "

"We even went to the extent of approaching the national government because Madibeng has been misleading the government, telling them that everything is OK. Mmakau has been without water for years," he said.

"The money they are using to pay [for] these water tankers should be used to help the community access water."

Madibeng is no stranger to water shortages. In 2014, two people were shot dead in nearby Mothutlung when the community took to the streets over the lack of water. At the time, speculation was rife that local politicians were colluding with business people in the area to sabotage the municipality's water infrastructure.

This would pave the way for the municipality to award tenders for water tankers, allowing the politicians and business people to rake in large sums of money.

The municipality has played host to several protests over the past three weeks, with angry residents accusing Madibeng authorities of having caused the City of Tshwane to cut water services to the municipality over nonpayment.

However, Tshabalala said parts of Madibeng that received water from Tshwane were without water because the metro was forced to reduce water consumption by 15% following a devastating drought towards the end of last year.

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