Communities in Cape Town have made pleas to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) asking it to not grant Eskom annual tariff increases which will see electricity go up by 45% over the next three years, saying it will cripple households.
Nersa kicked off its nationwide public hearings in Cape Town this week to deliberate on Eskom’s tariff applications. The utility has asked for a 15% annual increase for the next three years and has made an application to recover losses that it made in the 2017/2018 financial year.
Members from communities affiliated to anti-climate change group Project 90 by 2030 took turns giving personal testimonies on how tariff increases affected their communities.
Key among their concerns was the affordability of electricity for the poor and the elderly.
Joyce Malebu from an activist group in Gugulethu told Nersa that electricity was one of the biggest expenditures for the members in her group, who are mostly unemployed and pensioners surviving on social grants.
“If you buy electricity for R20 you will only get we get four to eight units, we must use it sparingly every day. Four units are not enough to keep our lights, fridge, as well as our stove, running for two hours,” said Malebu.
She pleaded with Nersa to place the interests of civilians first for whom “the cost of living is becoming unbearable every time”.
“Stop increasing the poverty, stop increasing the pain and widening the gap between the haves and have-nots,” she added
Charmaine Pretorius told the Nersa panel that women in her community were forced to go collect firewood in the bush because R10 electricity only afforded three units of electricity.
“I can’t afford R10 for electricity, how will our community suffer if the tariff goes up, the poorest of the poor are suffering in our communities,” Pretorius said.
Members of the public also criticised Eskom for passing the costs of corruption and negligence to the consumer through an increase in tariffs.
In response to the concerns raised by community members, Hasha Tlhotlhalemaje, general manager for regulation at Eskom, said the utility understood and sympathised the challenges that were faced by communities and was willing to have further engagements on how to tackle the challenges.
However, she said Eskom was not in a position to make policy decisions, but merely implemented the decisions.
“Eskom has always been a forerunner as far as trying to make sure ensure that there are electricity prices and conditions that protect the poor, we still stand by that and continue to request that. It does not mean that we have to keep the complete price of electricity down,” said Tlhotlhalemaje.
She explained that Eskom was also providing a service and needed to ensure that the costs of its operations were covered.
On Monday, Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe said the tariff hike and assistance from the government were necessary for the utility to remain a going concern.
The utility’s debt has grown from R390-billion to R419-billion over the past year and the downward trend is expected to continue, said Hadebe, adding the utility was raising debt to pay off debt.
“At the end of the day, we want a situation where can meet debt service commitments,” Hadebe said.