Court victory for Mpumalanga residents facing 14-hours-a-day power cuts

But residents association spokesperson says it’s too early to declare victory as the municipality may appeal the judgment.
The municipality has a long history of service delivery dereliction. Image: Govan Mbeki Municipality's Facebook page

Residents of Govan Mbeki Local Municipality are celebrating a judgment handed down by the Mpumalanga High Court last week which orders the municipality to report regularly to the court on progress made in settling its R1.18 billion Eskom arrears bill.

“It’s an important victory for residents in that it makes the municipality accountable to the court and to residents,” says Waseem Gani, an attorney at MacRoberts Inc, who is representing the residents in the case.

The municipality had fallen so far behind in paying its Eskom arrears that it was forced to introduce rotational load shedding that resulted in power outages lasting 10 to 14 hours a day.

The residents association that brought the case was the Bethal and eMzinoni Community for Services Association. Seven respondents were cited in the case, including Govan Mbeki Municipality, Gert Sibande District Municipality, Eskom and the Mpumalanga provincial minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

‘Maximum demand’ agreement

Eskom and Govan Mbeki Municipality agreed on a Notified Maximum Demand (NMD) for certain areas within the municipality, including Bethal, eMzinoni and Milan Park.

This placed limits on the amount of power Eskom would provide to the municipality. Once the allotted power allocation had been used, the municipality was forced to introduce localised load shedding.

The municipality approached Eskom in 2020 with a view to obtaining an increase in the NMD, but this was refused by Eskom, apparently on the grounds that several previous payment plans agreed by the municipality had been broken.

Residents complained that the municipality had allowed the electrical infrastructure to deteriorate while failing to resolve its arrears bill with Eskom.

Residents still wary

Spokesperson for the residents association, Ziady Dangor, says it’s too early to declare victory in the matter as the municipality may well appeal the judgment, using ratepayers money to fight a hopeless legal battle.

“If they appeal the matter, we see another tough winter ahead of us, with daily power cuts,” adds Dangor.

“They will use the appeal to continue the same old behaviour that brought us to court in the first place.

“It has been 20 months since we started this legal process, and not once did anyone from the municipality approach us to sit down and talk.

“Only 2% of municipal officials in our town actually live here, so they do not bear the brunt of their mismanagement. We, the ratepayers and residents have to bear that brunt,” he points out.

Read: Mpumalanga residents head to court to halt 20-hours-a-day power cuts

Dangor says some residents are now talking of a rates boycott, which would mean withholding a portion of the rates owed and using that to fix potholes and other infrastructure that is the responsibility of the municipality in terms of the constitution.

The only potholes that have been repaired in the area are those funded by residents and AfriForum, he adds.

‘Hopeless’ at service delivery

“The municipality has two mandates – one to provide basic services to residents, the other to charge for these services,” says Dangor.

“They [the municipality] have been ruthlessly efficient at charging and collecting rates, but hopeless at delivering services.”

Read: Is this the future of small town South Africa?

Gani says residents are hopeful that the judgment handed down on Friday (January 14) in favour of the community will be the start of a process to resolve the electricity crises in the area.

Continuous reports

“The judgment places the municipalities under a court order compelling them to provide continuous reports to the court regarding the electricity crises and the progress made in resolving their issues with Eskom.

“Should they fail to do so, the community will be entitled to apply to hold executive members of the municipality in contempt of court,” he adds.

Gani notes that the high court will now play a supervisory role to ensure that the municipalities are carrying out their constitutional mandate to the community “as they were not doing so on their own”.

An aspect of the judgment that has given cheer to residents is that the community has been given leave to approach the court again for relief on the same set of papers should it be found that the municipalities and Eskom are failing to make the necessary progress in resolving the electricity crises.

“We are hopeful that this is the start to better and brighter days for the residents of Bethal, Emzinoni and Milan Park,” says Gani.

This is a huge leap in returning the towns of Bethal and eMzinoni to their former glory, according to Dangor.

“The infrastructure is very neglected. Govan Mbeki Municipality runs many towns under its administration and Bethal and eMzinoni [have] been neglected for years.”

Since the court process was launched 20 months ago, the arrears amount owed to Eskom by the municipality has grown from R1.18 billion to R1.9 billion.

“We do not expect the problems to go away immediately but we are hopeful for a better future for the residents and businesses going forward,” adds Dangor.

“The communities of Bethal and eMzinoni have realised that there literally is no other sustainable option but to go the legal route to get a totally mismanaged and incompetent municipality accountable for service delivery and specifically the supply of electricity,” he says.

“Govan Mbeki Municipality is accountable for the towns of Secunda, eMbahlenhle, Evander, Kinross and Trichardt.

“It is a failed state organ with no signs of service delivery improvement,” says Dangor.

“The state of neglect is so severe that it is to be expected that the problems will not go away immediately. The court ruling imposing a structural interdict on Govan Mbeki Municipality is a first, significant step to bring this state organ to accountability.”

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chickens, home, roost = ANC election problem.

Nothing unites politically disparate / desperate people like lack of basic service delivery. They will vote for ABA : Anything But Anc.

End of comments.

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