'This is for people's lives -- find the money'

Activists launched their campaign for free electricity outside Eskom’s Braamfontein, Johannesburg, offices on Monday—on the eve of the parastatal’s controversial tariff hikes next month.

Protesting on International Women’s Day, about 100 members of Earthlife Africa and the Gender Forum on Energy and Climate Change chanted “Eishkom” and “voetsek Eskom, voetsek”.

Comprising mainly women, the crowd danced and sang—and Eskom locked its doors.

The demonstration preceded Earthlife Africa’s launch of its report, “Free Basic Electricity: A Better Life for All”.

Poor households now qualify now for 50kWh free electricity monthly. But the report argues that all South Africans should receive 200kW.

“Is 50kWh sufficient?” Earthlife Africa researcher Ferrial Adam said, addressing the crowd. “We know that answer, but for some reason we have to tell the government over and over again.”

The report says that Eskom bases the 50kWh allowance on a study conducted by the University of Cape Town. Yet even the fourfold increase Earthlife favours “is not ideal”, Adam said: it would cover only 25% of basic household energy needs.

The report also opposes the prepaid metering system. Boiling a kettle, cooking on the stove and having a light on simultaneously makes the current trip, the report says. This is because of the low amperage the prepaid system requires.

The unit cost of electricity is higher for those using a prepaid meter, the report says—“almost 72c/kWh as compared to metered customers who pay approximately 59c/kWh”.

“Why must we be penalised because we can’t afford to pay?” Adam asked.

The report argues that a small levy on large energy users, such as mines, would help fund free basic electricity.

The government regularly talks about building a world-class country and when there are stadiums to be built the money is readily available, Adam said.

“This is for people’s lives, find the money.”

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn is a business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She holds a master's degree in journalism and media studies from Wits University. Her areas of interest range from energy and mining to financial services and telecommunication. When she is not poring over annual reports, Lisa can usually be found pottering about the kitchen. Read more from Lisa Steyn

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