Soweto residents owe Eskom R15bn in unpaid bills

Soweto residents resist installation of prepaid meters for their electricity supply.
Soweto residents resist installation of prepaid meters for their electricity supply.

Soweto residents owe Eskom R15-billion in unpaid electricity bills - the same amount that close to 60 municipalities combined also owed the utility.

Eskom said most Soweto households don't pay for electricity and were resisting the installation of prepaid meters, leaving it with a headache.

Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said: "The solution for Soweto needs urgent government intervention. The problem is getting worse."

Eskom only provides about 180 000 households with electricity but the township's principal debt is R7-billion, which has accumulated interests of
R8-billion, Phasiwe said.

"We disconnect people who don't pay, but some work with our technicians to reconnect themselves," Phasiwe said.

He said around 17 000 customers in Soweto have had their electricity cut off due to nonpayment but many illegally reconnected themselves.

The township's unpaid electricity bills were now more than double Eskom's top five defaulting municipalities.

Cleopatra Shezi, the secretary of the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, which opposes the installation of prepaid meters, said most Sowetans can't afford to pay for electricity.

"We can't afford to use our last money that should get us bread and pay for electricity," Shezi said.

She said illegal re-connections would continue until there was a "reasonable solution" such as Eskom investing in alternative sources of energy like wind and solar for people's benefit.

Thandi Sangweni, from the Gauteng Concerned Committee, said: "There's too much poverty in Soweto, and, unfortunately, prepaid meters mean if one doesn't have money they can't have electricity."

She said people have a right to refuse prepaid meters.

The debt (90 days or older) of all defaulting SA's municipalities combined was standing at R15-billion, as only about 28 municipalities fully adhere to payment arrangements on their electricity accounts.

Phasiwe said the only viable solution was switching to prepaid metering, which Sowetans strongly oppose, with only 40000 having prepaid meters.

"We're not targeting Soweto with prepaid meters, we just want all our customers to monitor their usage," Phasiwe said.

Phasiwe said some of those on prepaid in Soweto had by-passed the Eskom prepaid meters or sourced power coupons from the illegal ghost vendors.

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