Eskom is under attack – by the City of Joburg and the regional ANC over the almost week-long spate of power outages in Soweto.
The council has slammed the power utility for inefficiency and for failing to deliver on its mandate.
The City of Joburg claimed areas supplied by its own utility, City Power, still had power, but those Eskom supplied did not.
“This is why new housing and business developments such as RDP houses, flats and hotels have power in the township, while the large part of Soweto supplied by Eskom has been cut off,” said Matshidiso Mfikoe, the city’s mayoral committee member for Environment and Infrastructure Services.
She accused Eskom of being “insensitive” and showing “complete and utter disregard” for the people of Soweto.
But Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said there was “nothing sinister” about the power outages.
He attributed the blackouts to load shedding and then, when the power was due to be switched on again, overloading that caused the transformer to trip.
“When you have in some houses four or five backrooms using stoves at the same time, there is absolutely no way that the power will hold.
“We can’t control unplanned outages resulting from overloading,” Phasiwe said.
Eskom has been involved in a long-running battle with Soweto consumers over unpaid bills. Phasiwe said Soweto owed Eskom about R8 billion, of which R4bn was overdue.
“Some 84 percent of residents have not been paying their debt. Ideally, you should be having 16 percent not paying and 84 percent paying,” Phasiwe pointed out.
A key dispute – related to the outstanding billing problem – is the installation of prepaid electricity meters in Soweto. Both Eskom and City Power are installing meters for their customers. There have been ongoing protests across Soweto against their installation. Last week, Orlando West residents blockaded streets in protest against Eskom’s prepaid meters.
Mfikoe accused Eskom of changing the payment system unilaterally. She suggested it was inconceivable that the prolonged outages could occur without notice “in the township internationally renowned as home to two Nobel peace laureates, Dr Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu”.