Civil rights movement AfriForum will approach the court to prevent Eskom from cutting the power supply to 20 towns that are in arrears on their bulk electricity bills.
Eskom is threatening to restrict electricity supply to these towns, including places like Harrismith, Welkom, Grahamstown, Witbank and Secunda for several hours every morning and night starting June 5.
It has started with formal preparations, including informing affected parties about its intentions.
Eskom said in a statement last week that the 20 municipalities are a collective R3.68 billion in arrears. Total municipal arrears to Eskom amount to R4.6 billion.
AfriForum head of community structures Tiaan Esterhuizen told Moneyweb on Tuesday that the organisation has consulted with its lawyers and will approach the court for an interdict to prevent the supply restrictions.
It is not yet clear whether one [legal] action will be possible in relation to all the towns, or whether separate actions will be necessary. It will be based on the argument that Eskom is applying load shedding in a discriminatory fashion.
Esterhuizen says AfriForum will ask the court to order affected municipalities to enter into a payment plan with Eskom and to report back to court on progress in this regard within a specified time frame.
He says AfriForum has been successful with such applications before with regard to Thaba Chweu municipality (Lydenburg) and the City of Matlosana (Klerksdorp). A municipality that enters into such a plan under court supervision and fails to adhere to it, exposes itself to a charge of contempt of court, in which case “the municipal manager can be locked up”.
Both of these municipalities are however back on the list of defaulters.
Esterhuizen says it is difficult to understand why Eskom has not reverted to a contempt of court in these cases and AfriForum is currently looking into the possibility of doing it itself.
Eskom spokesperson Khule Phasiwe could not be reached for comment.
Esterhuizen says the only long-term solution is for electricity revenue to be ring-fenced and used for paying the municipality’s Eskom bill before anything else and to allow private companies to obtain distribution licences.
In the meantime Nestlé South Africa has expressed its concern about the inclusion of the Maluti-A-Phofung municipality that supplies electricity to Harrismith, where its infant nutrition factory is located on the list of targeted municipalities.
“While we understand the position that Eskom finds itself in, we are obviously very concerned about the potential impact of this power outage. Our operations and consumers will be highly affected,” Motshidisi Mokwena, Spokesperson for Nestlé South Africa said.
“Since 2014, we have been in regular discussions with all key stakeholders at national, regional and local government level to resolve this matter as it has grave implications for business,” she said.
Nestlé’s Harrismith factory employs more than 400 people and was expanded in 2008 through a foreign direct investment of R345 million to increase production capacity. “This resulted in additional jobs being created for the local community. It is therefore not in anyone’s best interest to have power cuts as this will affect everyone: our company, employees, the province and the country at large but most importantly, our consumers,” Mokwena said.
She added that Nestlé continues to engage the municipality.