Soweto residents to take Eskom to court

To prevent township from ‘sliding further into lawlessness’ over electricity disconnections.
‘Meaningful engagement’ between the parties with a view to drawing up a binding policy framework that reduces power disconnections is proposed. Image: Waldo Swiegers, Bloomberg

Several hundred Soweto residents, led by the Lungelo Lethu Human Rights Foundation (LLHRF), are planning to haul Eskom before the South Gauteng High Court to stop the electricity utility carrying out what they say are arbitrary and discriminatory electricity disconnections.

LLHRF intends asking the court to compel Eskom to set up a fair and independent tribunal to adjudicate the complaints. Summons will be served on Eskom in the coming weeks.

Eskom’s annual report says it is owned R18 billion in unpaid electricity bills in Soweto alone, out of a total arrears bill of about R40 billion.

In the last few days President Cyril Ramaphosa issued a public letter calling for an end to the culture of non-payment that worked so well in bringing an end to apartheid, but “has no place in present-day SA. If public utilities like Eskom are to survive, then all users need to pay for the services they receive.”

Speaking at the recent Joburg Mining Indaba, Eskom acting CEO Jabu Mabuza also called for an end to the culture of non-payment that had contributed to Eskom’s dire financial situation.

By some estimates, just 10% of residents are paying for electricity in Soweto.

The notion that Soweto residents are wilfully delinquent is challenged by LLHRF president King Sibiya. “Our main objective in bringing this court action is to stop Soweto sinking deeper into lawlessness. Social protests are escalating and recently this resulted in the tragic death of two workers. We have held numerous forums in Soweto and have heard complaints from residents that Eskom is disconnecting residents without just cause.

Paying customers also affected

“Some residents who are dutifully paying their electricity bills have been disconnected, and others who are entitled to free or subsidised electricity are also being disconnected.

“Our request to the court is very simple: establish a tribunal to hear the individual merits of each complaint before deciding to disconnect power from people who are often living in desperate circumstances.”

Soweto is supplied with electricity directly by Eskom, and not City Power, which supplies most of Johannesburg. City Power has established channels for resolving customer complaints, largely due to various high court decisions in recent years. However Eskom is not subject to the same legal requirements and is therefore able to act with impunity when deciding to disconnect customers, says Sibiya.

He adds that Eskom’s claim that Soweto residents are R18 billion in arrears requires a proper audit.

“Based on our interactions with community organisations in Soweto, we believe this figure may be exaggerated,” says Sibiya. “We are not asking for any freebies for Soweto residents. We support President Ramaphosa’s call for an end to lawlessness and the culture of non-payment. But we want fairness and transparency in the way Eskom treats its customers in the area.”

The Soweto Accord

LLHRF says an agreement was reached in 1992 between Eskom and Soweto residents. The so-called Soweto Accord outlined an 11-point plan whereby Eskom would directly provide the township with electricity, thereby avoiding having to pay local government mark-up fees. The purpose of accord was to bring an end to the rent boycott prevailing at the time and restore a culture of payment within townships. That clearly hasn’t worked.

Sibiya says he decided to get involved when he saw service protests in the township and the destruction of Eskom property and assets. “If we don’t do something about this, the service protests will get worse.”

Some of the key points of the Soweto Accord were:

  1. Residents of Soweto were to receive electricity direct from Eskom with a flat rate of R33.80 per month per household. This flat rate was to be paid until Eskom repaired all meter boxes in Soweto. This was supposed to end the practice of Eskom billing customers based on estimations (a practice that continues til today). Residents complain that they are not being accurately billed for services.
  2. Eskom was to embark on a consumer education programme to explain to customers how billing worked and to assist them in reading their meters. The intention was to assist residents in saving electricity.
  3. Eskom, together with civic associations, would embark on educational roadshows. This did not happen, says the LLHRF.
  4. Eskom would repair all transformers to assist it in reaching its targets in terms of budget and service delivery. The resultant improvement in service delivery was considered a key component of the campaign to restore a culture of payment in the township. This, too, did not roll out as planned.
  5. Poor households were to be extended “a duty of care”, meaning government would subsidise those who can’t afford to pay for services they consumed. Today, Eskom is claiming payment from these same poor people (and the municipality), to the tune of R18 billion.

Soweto’s disputed R18 billion debt to Eskom

“We are willing and prepared to pay electricity tariffs at affordable rates, taking into consideration the fact that unemployment and poverty are at extremely high levels in the township,” says Sibiya.

“Eskom’s unilateral approach to disconnections and billing is unjustified, unreasonable and inequitable. Water and electricity are fundamental human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Universal Declaration.”

LLHRF says the solution is for both sides to engage meaningfully with a view to drawing up a binding policy framework. A flat electricity rate can be agreed as an interim solution. The interim solution depends on the negotiations by both parties.    

“We are also sympathetic to Eskom’s predicament,” says Sibiya.

“There is a debt outstanding. But the chances of recovering this are very low indeed so long as we have antagonism between Eskom and the people of Soweto.

“Criminality is spreading in the township through cable theft and destruction of Eskom’s property. This makes it difficult for Eskom to deliver on its mandate and to achieve its budget. We want to assist them to restore services in the township and bring an end to criminality. This will require the cooperation of law enforcement agencies, community forums and Eskom.

Electricity prices have been escalating at more than 18% a year in recent years. On the current pricing trajectory, expenditure by households will almost double by 2030. This is unsustainable in one of the poorest parts of the country.

Background to the dispute

LLHRF says at the start of winter this year Eskom disconnected electricity to hundreds of Soweto households, schools, churches, business without any notice. The disconnected included people who paying their monthly bills. This was a punitive and blanket response by Eskom to criminals who had stolen cables and destroyed Eskom property.

Soweto has a long history of disputes with Eskom, dating back to the apartheid years.

In the early 1990s, many residents joined the Operation Khanyisa campaign which encouraged the illegal reconnection of electricity.

The campaign justified illegal reconnections based on long-standing claims of massive and indiscriminate cut-offs, including cutting off entire blocks, thereby penalising those who were paying their bills.

According to a University of Johannesburg PhD study on township service delivery protests by Ndanduleni Nthambeleni, the campaign organisers also claimed incorrect billing, cut-offs without proper notice, unserviced and faulty meters and the lack of concessions for the poor, the disabled and the unemployed.

LLHRF says it approached Eskom on behalf of the community on numerous occasions, and was informed by Eskom management that it cannot reconnect electricity without an audit. “We sent petitions and memoranda to Eskom, to no avail,” says Sibiya.

Eskom is demanding R6 500 for reconnections and 25% of the outstanding debt as an upfront payment.

“This is clearly unaffordable for many elderly people and pensioners now living without power,” says Sibiya. “Many residents also complain of over-billing, but are unable to have their voices heard by Eskom.”

LLHRF says Eskom is in violation of the Soweto Accord as well as the Consumer Protection Act, the Municipal Systems Amendment Act, the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act and the Constitution.

Response from Eskom

All Eskom tariffs are regulated by Nersa (National Energy Regulator of SA) and Eskom abides by those tariffs for each category of customers. Customers will therefore pay the tariffs applicable to their category as with all customers supplied by Eskom throughout the country.

Eskom cannot negotiate separate tariffs or have preferential arrangements outside of what is regulated. A fixed charge per household will result in customers paying a fixed amount irrespective of the amount of electricity used. This could lead to wasteful usage of electricity. Above all, this will cause network overloading and hindrance in providing good service to customers. Eskom’s lifeline tariffs are Homelight 20 A and Homelight 60 A.

The lifeline tariffs are meant to provide a basic electricity service at a subsidised rate to those who cannot afford to pay the full tariff.

The current inclining block tariff (IBT) is provided to all residential customers, and therefore provides a subsidy to all low-consumption residential customers.

Eskom has a yearly customer education schedule for various communities including Soweto. The programme focuses mainly on the safe use of electricity, how to use electricity wisely and efficiently, the IBT, free basic electricity (FBE) and other electricity-related information that is of benefit to customers.

Eskom is not in a position to continuously provide services in areas where the residents are not paying for their electricity. Non-payment of electricity does not only affect the security of supply for paying customers, but it also contributes to increased energy and revenue losses coupled with increased operational costs.

Eskom maintains and replaces failed infrastructure on a regular basis due to overloading caused by illegal connections. This is not sustainable and a PFMA [Public Finance Management Act] issue while not in line with Eskom’s revenue management practice and efforts to improve on its financial and operational objectives.

In order for Eskom to replace the damaged mini-substation and subsequently restore supply to the area, audits have to be conducted on the premises that are connected to the said mini-substation or the transformer. The audits will assist in identifying and eliminating the cause of the failure and damages to electricity equipment. During these audits, illegal connections and tampered meters will be immediately removed, customers who have contraventions will be disconnected and a fine of R6 052.60 will be issued to the customers that bypassed meters.

The government assists all qualifying indigent households by providing free basic electricity. This is a programme facilitated and administered by municipalities. Eskom issues FBE to identified customers on behalf of the government.

Eskom is allowed by law to estimate customer readings. The estimations are based on the customer’s consumption when actual readings are taken. Eskom is also able to correct estimations if a customer is over or underestimated whenever actual readings are taken. Eskom meter readers are in some instances unable to enter customers’ premises due to challenges such as locked gates and dangerous dogs. However, customers are encouraged to send their meter readings to Eskom between the 4th and 7th of each month.



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“and others who are entitled to free or subsidised electricity are also being disconnected.”

Where do I sign up? What entitles someone to free electricity.
This is an absolute joke. The whole country has good reason to sue eskom EXCEPT SOWETO!!!

Maybe the rest of us should sue Soweto……

A class action, what a splendid idea!….Gerrie is jy daar?

Common sense would dictate an electricity ration for all Soweto residents until the debt is paid off. Start at 4 hours of power per day and increase it as the debt decreases.

Saibot: what do other suburbs/metropolis that do pay think of Soweto? There was a session on radio recently and the general feed back was : screw Soweto, if we pay, then they should pay

If I don’t pay I am disconnected- immediately.
Why did Eskom allow things to get out of hand, as with Municipalities?
Was the ANC making the call?

This is why the DA is going through turmoil.

There are NOT facts; but I’m using this as an analogy.

Mayor Marshaba says that race plays a part. We must be sensitive to residents of Soweto. The guys like Tony Leon says user pay principle must apply.

“Sensitive”? So the deadbeats in Soweto are special, eh? If I try not to pay, my power gets cut immediately. What makes the Sowetans so special that we must be sensitive to the poor dears? It’s very simple: treat everybody equally, and cut off power to the 90%.

You are out of touch with the people of this country. You are not disconnected when you dont pay, your electricity is cut off yes, but they dont come and dig up your driveway and take your cable. These people view electricity as a human right, “some are entitled free electricity” . Why must they pay when their neighbors get free? The questions you should ask is why dont you get this yet and why do you still pay?

@TaffyDee… Why are you paying?

It will agree with one thing. The chance of recovering this debt is about zero. The ANC implanted the culture of non payment in teir minions, but they are yet to reap the worst of it. Consuming something for which you did not pay is simply theft. The fact that only 10 per cent of the population of Soweto are paying would make 90 per cent thieves. That is a big chunk of any population. The ANC has written off debt repeatedly and turned a blind eye to the problem which speaks volumes about their morality. Why do these thieves steal electricity? One may argue that theft is what thieves do. One may also argue it is for the same reason that dogs lick their genitalia: they can and nobody stops them. Trey Gowdy once said something that resonated with me: “The law is the glue that holds society together”. If you pervert one aspect of the law you pervert all of it”. The fact is 90% of Soweto has done this will the full knowledge and indeed blessing of the ANC (who will stoop to any depths to remain in power) will simply hasten South Africa’s demise. The country is unravelling faster than a $2 Tee shirt. Rule of law has been deposed and superseded by malicious anarchy.

“..just 10% of residents are paying for electricity in Soweto” and residents want to take Eskom to court!? My f0k Marelize..

No payment – No electricity. Why so difficult to understand City of Johannesburg? Why don’t Eishkom make use of prepaid meters? Problem solved!

They did try installing prepaid meters, but “the community” threatened violence. Welcome to the New! Improved! South Africa, where certain groups are above the law.

Fits in real nice with ANC culture of entitlement- certain people are entitled to everything for free. education water medicine doctors cars . And if not they steal it.

Maybe its time for everybody to stop paying.

If everybody is supposedly “equal” Whahahaaaaaa. why should only some pay.

Getting very sick of this lot.

Believe it or not that is actually the only solution.

Eskom is billions in debt, they dont money for a courtcase

Eskom never knew they needed to collect for electricity sold, they thought government would just give them money when needed. Like kids with pocket money.

If they were encouraged not to pay during apartheid why do they have to pay now? Just wondering as a regular payer of rates and taxes?

Nah Eskom – do not disconnect man
Just Megger the non paying lot with say 30000V for 30 seconds or so every week and the problem will go away !!!!

I don’t know how true this is, but a work colleague of mine comes from India. He told us that Calcutta also had a similar problem. They then deliberately sent a voltage spike through the network. People who had legal connections weren’t affected because their distribution boards tripped. Those with illegal connections didn’t have distribution boards, and all their appliances were fried instantly. Problem solved.

Factual Incacitus – Exactly why I proposed it.

Is there enough capacity for a voltage spike? sounds like an easy solution.

Hahahaaa! I laughed so hard at Charles! “Is there enough capacity for a voltage spike?” ROFL

This just goes to show how disconnected people are from reality around them. “Hey! Why do we suddenly need to pay, what is going on, lets go to court!” The reality is going to come as such a shock to a lot of people in the next few years. Per my outlook, and even in the scenario where RSA survives, poverty is going to increase, and significantly so.

That hand has been in the cookie jar for far too long. Even if the government wants to, they don’t have the will to make the harder decisions, to prevent a longer term disaster for the majority. Even if they want to make the harder decisions, every Tom Dick and Harry will first go to court to try and stop it. By the time they realised what is happening and what should have been done instead, its most likely over for them.

All of the above doesn’t mean that there isn’t a future in SA for some, in my opinion. It just means that, unfortunately, the poor will suffer more and more, even in one of the better scenarios that may play out.

*lol* …what a wicked idea! 🙂 Burn their toast!

But the way it will work in inefficient SA, “the people” will protest about da evil surges.
Then the govt will say “we the ANC” will propose a new Amendment Bill to protect you the people: we will force Eskom to advise the public via phone apps, as to exactly on which days/time (accurate to the second) and which substations the spikes are to take place at given time.
Then a board of inspectors will be appointed to ensure compliance.
To oversee this critical function, a new ministry will be created “Dept of e-Jolt”…

(Jokes aside, it may probably work until every electricity-thief discovered surge-arrestor plugs? In the meantime manufacturers can cash in on increased demand, by raising their product prices….but let me guess, expect a new Pricing Bill that may put a stop to “opportunistic” capitalists…) 🙁

I like this one, but also the one about whether enough capacity exists to perform such.

Can they just write-off the damn debt and install pre-paid meters and lets see or they gonna toyi-toyi still

South African logic at play: Sue the provider for cutting you off for none payment and preventing illegal access to services!! Now a that’s entitlement for you. Whatever happened to the Ubuntu, culture of payment and doing the right thing? Those are just local myths.

Electricity is not a right that can be abused continually without abandon.

It’s not a right in the first place!

The Eskom suits are a very stubborn bunch. Truth is, that debt (though somewhat exaggerated I feel) shall never be recovered in its entirety considering the unemployment rate Zuma left us with.

Eskom could – as an example -implement a flat rate of say R100 per month per household. If Soweto has 150 000 households (this is a dirty guess-timate), Eskom could earn around R150m. This could go a long way in helping the entity with its financial woes (and feeding the politicians’ fat bellies). Rather get something than nothing at but………this is Eskom we are talking about – stubborn and lacking neurons.

Which other charities do you support?…phht.

Suggestion : when Eskom gets unbundled, unbundle Soweto Distribution to a NewCo that is owned by the unions and the PIC…

We are heading for an interesting time after unbundling. Eskom Distribution (that services end consumers) is potentially in a seriously advantageous position. It can supply large businesses at rates very competitive to councils. There are industrial areas between Cape Town and Belville that are served by Eskom, not Cape Town. Now imagine factories can choose between an average all-in cost of 140c per kWh in parts of Montagu Gardens and other parts at times across the road sit with 190c per kWh.

IMO the New Eskom Distribution should not be permitted to compete with local authorities. It should deal with mega clients such as smelters and foundries and mines that are anyway too big for their councils to handle, plus rural as in looong distance rural

Better still, why don’t those who pay in Soweto launch a class action against their fellow residents WHO WON’T PAY?

Far more productive action?

Dear oh dear….when will the masses realize that “freedom” does not mean getting everything for free?
It also doesn’t mean robbing the minority who are the principle taxpayers ……quickest way to bankrupt a country!

Why not just sell this debt to someone who thinks they can collect? Most likely only get a few cents in the rand but better then pretending they are ever going to get R18b out of Soweto.

The amount of looting, fraud, backhanders, looking the other way and liberal doses of “priveledge” which that would facilitate, boggles the mind!

Soweto also forms part of SA and therefore it’s difficulties are no different from that of other communities and citizens throughout the country… If we don’t pay, or our accounts fall in arrears, we’re disconnected and then pay reconnection fees. Even when it’s an error made by our supplier and not our own.

What I find most astonishing though. Is that depending on the topic of the issue at hand, the story that is spun varies significantly!
Previously, they were insistent that under apartheid they were excluded access to such public services and today we’re told that they intentionally boycotted these services.

And they do not have load shedding!!
Free electricity 24/7 365.

Electricity should be free. Increase the petrol and diesel price by Two rand per liter. This is the only way to get everybody to pay.

Electricity is not a human right! There are other ways to heat and cook.

Bottom line: 3,5M taxpayers (yes you know who you are) carry the other 60M, who prefer to strike, steal or protest.

Income tax payers. Not tax payers.

There are many kinds of tax. I know your limited world view (or is it victimhood) makes you think that this is all there is.

Before you lose the plot entirely, I am not saying this is a desirable situation, nor am I supporting NHI. Sad one has leave these disclaimers for the irrational.

End of comments.




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