FIFI PETERS: We had an update coming out of Eskom earlier today [Wednesday], issuing a statement reminding low-income households of the benefit they have to claim free electricity – between 50 and 60 kilowatt hours. This is a long-standing government initiative that Eskom has been implementing for some time alongside municipalities.
We have Portia Papu, the senior manager for customer services for Eskom, to talk to us about the reminder. Portia, thanks so much for your time. Why the need to remind customers now of the free benefit?
PORTIA PAPU: Thank you so much for having me. Good evening to yourself and your listeners. The reason for us reminding the customer to go and collect the free basic electricity [FBE] based on our stats we find out that only 72% of the customers who have been registered by municipalities do collect their FBE. If I can equate that 28% that is not collecting, it’s almost 300 000 people in households that are not collecting this FBE. That’s the reason – and it’s free, it’s being provided by the government and it’s rolled out by Eskom and the municipality.
FIFI PETERS: One can’t ignore the timing of this reminder. It does come two days after the ANC, the ruling party, announced its election manifesto to woo investors at the upcoming local government elections. Is this politicking?
PORTIA PAPU: No, not at all. If you can remember, or if you can go to all old clips and newspapers, we always encourage customers that there is this free basic electricity that is being rolled out and customers are not taking it up.
What we have learnt at Eskom, on our side, we found that customers have notices that have been bypassed because we noticed that there is so much rollout of blackouts because of the infrastructure that has been popping out. When we do our audits we find out the customers have bypassed the meters and stolen the electricity. And then when you look at the families you find the families are very poor and they don’t understand about this free basic electricity. That’s a worrying factor because one is getting the exception and exams are coming closer, and people are going to disconnect those households.
So we’re trying to emphasise, and we’re trying to be socially active as Eskom to make sure that the kids do have electricity to study.
FIFI PETERS: Is this an extra cost on Eskom’s balance sheet? We know that things are not looking too pretty there, but is this an extra cost, and how much is it going to cost you for this, is it the 28% or [for] around 300 000 or so people to take up this benefit?
PORTIA PAPU: It’s going to be a …… income for Eskom for these 300 000 people, round about R6 million, but it’s going to be a benefit to Eskom on a monthly basis. The fact of the matter is we’re also encouraging people not to steal electricity, to understand that by having free basic electricity that is there for ironing, for switching on the kettle and for the kids to be able to study. That is something that the government is providing. So there is an extra cost, but at a later date we’re also trying to make sure that kids at home are safe, because these guys that are bypassing electricity are causing an unsafe connection. And then there are some fatalities that are happening at home. People get electrocuted and then Eskom and the municipality get blamed for those kids that get electrocuted. That’s the reason why we are encouraging; it’s something that we do continuously.
FIFI PETERS: All right. And then who exactly qualifies? Can you just describe to us the threshold under which one can be grouped as a low-income household?
PORTIA PAPU: All right. Those who qualify are the people we call the indigents and then how these are measured is two grants. So anyone who earns less than R3 600 does qualify. What they have to do is they have to approach their councillor and then their councillor is going to register them on the register. Then we are giving it through to Eskom and people will be configured into our Eskom system, and we would dispense the free basic electricity, which is 50 kilowatts.
FIFI PETERS: What kind of documentation will they need when they do approach their councillor?
PORTIA PAPU: If there are any grants they need to produce their grants that shows that they are earning grants. Those who are unemployed need to make sure that they do produce something that indicates that they are unemployed and they don’t have any income.
FIFI PETERS: And this is a permanent benefit, right? It doesn’t have a timeline.
PORTIA PAPU: Yes, it’s permanent. It does not have any timeline. You can go and register and you are going to get it.
FIFI PETERS: Portia, thanks so much for your time, ma’am. We’ll leave it there. Portia Papu is the senior manager for customer services at Eskom.