I'm sorry says Durban mayor after municipality cuts power to schools owing R80m

eThekwini Municipality mayor Zandile Gumede.
eThekwini Municipality mayor Zandile Gumede.
Image: THULI DLAMINI

Durban mayor Zandile Gumede has apologised to 30 schools in and around the city after their electricity was cut off over outstanding municipal bills.

Power has since been restored to all the schools. It was recently revealed that section 21 schools — which manage their own finances — owe the eThekwini Municipality more than R80-million in utility bills.

Last Monday Gumede hauled the offending Durban school principals before the municipality to explain why they were not paying.

The meeting came after she had told a full council meeting that section 21 schools that had outstanding utility bills would not be automatically disconnected.

But at the city’s executive committee meeting this week‚ Gumede issued an apology.

“As the mayor I was not aware of schools being disconnected. Even the deputy city manager of treasury Krish Kumar wasn’t aware of this. We had a meeting with the affected schools to better understand what the issues are and we are dealing with the matter‚” she said.

She said relevant officials have been tasked with dealing with the matter.

“Krish will deal with the matter and report to me as the mayor. I want to repeat what I have said previously about the disconnection process. Proper protocols need to be followed if people don’t pay for services‚” said Gumede.

“As the chair of the finance committee I need to know when decisions‚ especially major decisions like this‚ are taken by officials. So I want to apologise to schools. The managers of the Umlazi and Pinetown districts are dealing with the issue.”

The mayor will also be meeting with KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwana to discuss the issue further. She said poor schools should not suffer by having their electricity and water disconnected. She added that the acting head of electricity Maxwel Mthembu would also look in the issue.

“I have been told that there is a turnaround strategy. We will also be looking at big businesses who are not paying for services. They cannot be making money and not paying for services. We hope that this will also assist us with debt collection‚” said Gumede.

A report by the Auditor-General has revealed that the city is owed R3.31-billion for water but that the recouping of the debt is doubtful.

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