Electricity debt impasse will plunge us into darkeness

What is needed to solve this predicament is a mindset shift that acknowledges that services such as water and electricity are crucial and have to be paid for, the writer says.
What is needed to solve this predicament is a mindset shift that acknowledges that services such as water and electricity are crucial and have to be paid for, the writer says.
Image: Eskom

The impasse over the R18bn debt to Eskom by Soweto residents represents a ticking time bomb if quick and sustainable solutions are not found.

Eskom has resorted to electricity disconnections that have unfortunately affected paying households. A civic grouping calling itself the Lungelo Lethu Human Rights Foundation unsuccessfully took Eskom to court over the disconnections and proposed that residents be charged a monthly flat rate of R100 irrespective of consumption.

The SA Local Government Association, an organisation mandated to exercise oversight over local governments, has rightly argued that this proposal is unsustainable and not in keeping with the user-pay principle.

At the heart of the crisis is the culture of non-payment for services that was entrenched during the Struggle against apartheid. The resultant disconnections have accelerated the scourge of illegal connections.

The township has also witnessed outbreaks of violent protests against prepaid meters. The call for a flat rate is therefore a different guise of this entrenched culture of non-payment. It would be preposterous, for example, to propose a flat rate on airtime for cellphone usage or DStv subscription . The principle is always "the more you use, the more you pay".

What is needed is a mindset shift that acknowledges that services such as water and electricity are crucial and have to be paid for.

For this to happen, the government has to urgently convene a summit that will involve the key role players including Eskom and other power providers - Salga, Sanco, the National Electricity Regulator of SA ( which regulates tariffs Eskom can charge) and community structures.

The summit would have to deliberate realistic and affordable tariffs that would be acceptable to all and thus renew the culture of payment.

This would go a long way to reducing Eskom's multi-billion rand loan and avert a catastrophe that could plunge us into literal and figurative darkness.

Nathaniel Lee, Klipspruit

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