Eskom, South Africa's monopoly power utility, has been cutting off residents who cannot pay their bills. This is in direct contradiction to government policies that are supposed to extend access to electricity to poor communities.
Some residents of Soweto, a township outside Johannesburg, have expressed anger at being sent bills by Eskom even though they either do not have electricity or their supply has long been cut off. Here's what they say.
Margaret Keswa of Dube, Soweto, went to Eskom's Braamfontein offices in 1998 to ask for a power connection. She still does not have one, but the bills keep on coming. "In June, for example, I received a statement that I must pay about 5,000 rands. Last month it changed to 2,939,98 rands. I don't understand this as I simply don't have electricity."
Moffat Sithole, of Rockville, electricity was cut off in 1997 following a debt of 277,69 rands. Later that year he paid Eskom 278 rands and started receiving 31c credit accounts. He has never had electricity in his house again, but Eskom is demanding an 800 rand reconnection fee. Sithole, a pensioner, said he wrote to Eskom asking why agents had removed a cable to his house instead of just disconnecting the supply, but has had no reply. He has been receiving monthly bills, and the most recent one informed him that his consumption for July stood at 839.03 rands.
Mzikaise Kubeka, a resident of Dube, complains "Eskom often billed people without reading the meters. Right now my meter is not working. I have reported it several times but nothing has been done about it. How does Eskom determine my consumption? Where do they get the amount from if they are not checking the meter?"
Brian Ashe works with EarthLife Africa eThekwini, a South African environmental justice group.