Sandton Gautrain station hauls City of Joburg to court over water supply

Gautrain. Image: RUSSELL ROBERTS
Gautrain. Image: RUSSELL ROBERTS

The continued disconnection of water supply to the busy Sandton Gautrain station is a potential risk to human life, its landlord has argued in court papers.

The City of Johannesburg cut off water supply to the station almost two weeks ago after Cedar Park Properties 39, the station's landlord, allegedly failed to settle R8m debt for water, refuse, sewerage and property rates.

Cedar Park on Monday approached the South Gauteng High Court to demand immediate reconnection of water supply to the station and to stop, if any, plans to also disconnect electricity supply which could bring train commute to a halt.

Cedar Park has accused the City of extortion, risking loss of human life and attempting to hold it “ransom in the media” by stopping water supply to the busy Sandton Gautrain station that is used by around 20,000 people a day.

“… the continuous disconnection of water supply to the Sandton Gautrain station hub is a massive safety risk and one dare not even consider consequence of a fire breaking out in the Sandton Gautrain station hub, especially underground and with no water available in fire hydrants to extinguish it. This may undoubtedly lead to the loss of human life,” they said.

In their court papers, Cedar Park argue that the City’s claim that they have not paid a cent in the past six years since taking ownership of the property in 2013 was factually incorrect as ownership was only transferred to them in 2015.

Cedar Park also argues that it was incorrectly billed by the City by “unilaterally and without explanation increased the factor by which it calculates property rates allegedly due on the property by a mammoth 1,500% in August 2018”.

“This resulted in the amount charged… escalating from approximately R25,000 per month to R360,000 per month,” its papers read.

Cedar Park attached correspondence from June last year with an official from City of Johannesburg in which they raise concerns about an abrupt change in the property’s consumption levels that were said to have been multiplied.

The City’s official, Snethemba Yenga acknowledges the error and amends the invoice to factor by 1.

At the core of disagreements between the two parties is an agreement that the City will reimburse or not charge Cedar Park for other parts of the property as they are owned by the City. They argue that the City has so far charged them R5,8m for parts of the property that are owned by the City.

According to Cedar Park, there were also discrepancies and no clarity around what was owed to the City as the tax invoice statements received from the City show a significant decrease of about R5,8m.

“The only inference to be drawn from such a significant discrepancy in the amount is that the first respondent incorrectly billed the applicant in applying incorrect tariffs or incorrect meter readings and the like,” Cedar Park argues.

“Following receipt of ‘MP15’ [tax invoice statement] the application [Cedar Park] simply had no idea what was legally due to the first respondent and whether the first respondent applied the provisions of the agreement, correctly at all.”

They also argue that the pre-termination notice was first issued in August last year, but this was not actioned as they believed the dispute still had to be discussed and resolved. However, a year later, Cedar Park says the City decided to terminate water supply.

City of Johannesuburg mayor Herman Mashaba has defended the decision to cut water supply, saying that the City could not continue providing free services to businesses while residents were expected to pay on a monthly basis.

“This type of activity may have been condoned under previous administrations in the City, but it will not be allowed under my watch,” said Mashaba.

“With a growing debtor’s book, the City simply cannot afford to have its high consuming corporate customers fall behind on payments of municipal accounts. Let alone, ignoring such debt for six years.”

He also sent a stern warning to other businesses saying that there would be more of such cut offs for non-payments.

“Ultimately, failure to pay municipal debts negatively impacts service delivery which is budgeted for on revenue generation forecasts.

“More of these cut offs can be expected as efforts to collect outstanding debt are intensified through the City’s Operation Buya Mthetho”

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