Residents of Soweto in Gauteng, who reportedly owe Eskom about R8bn in unpaid electricity bills, are adamant in their rejection of pre-paid electricity metres, despite assurances that the new system will prevent further accumulation of the debts and promises of possible amnesty of up to three years by the national electricity supplier.

During public hearings on a petition before Parliament, the residents told the Portfolio Committees on Pubic Enterprises and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) that they do not want pre-paid metres and demand that Eskom writes off the R8bn debt.

Soweto resident Mr Morris Mnyandu said: “The culture of not paying for services comes from the ANC during the struggle days, and after the dawn of democracy they did not rehabilitate the residents for them to start getting used to paying for basic services, we do not owe Eskom. We say nothing about us without us, no one has a right to impose anything on our community. We need proper consultation so that we can also say what we want.”

Soweto community leader and 1976 June 16 activist, Mr Seth Mazibuko, said: “If there is one issue that unites the people of Soweto, it is the rejection of Eskom’s prepaid electricity. When we spoke we did not say we don’t want to pay – we didn’t say we want free electricity, we just wanted to be engaged and educated about the advantages of the prepaid electricity.”

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on CoGTA, Mr Richard Mdakane, said the resistance from the community was a result of a gap that exists between government and the people.

“This shows there is a huge gap between government and the people and we need to close that gap, because of that gap our people do not know what government does and government also does not know what the people are doing,” said Mr Mdakane.

He added that people had the right to indicate whether they liked a certain product or not but must follow the laws of the country in raising their dissatisfaction.

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises, Ms Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, said all the issues raised by the community will form part of the Committee’s report to be tabled before the National Assembly – before reporting back to the residents of Soweto.

By Sakhile Mokoena
24 March 2017