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Eskom to take over distribution, billing at troubled Free State municipality

Deputy President David Mabuza has said that by the end of this month, Eskom will start taking over electricity distribution and billing at the embattled Maluti-a-Phofung local municipality, in the Thabo Mofutsanyana district of the Free State.

He was answering questions at the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday about government interventions to improve service delivery at the municipality, which has been plagued by protests, particularly over water and electricity supply. 

A court order had previously been granted by the high court in Pretoria allowing Eskom to act as an agent for Maluti-a-Phofung. 

Eskom is expected to take over electricity distribution and billing in the area, pending final approvals from the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa). The municipality owes Eskom more than R5-billion. 

“I can today assure this committee and the people of Maluti-a-Phofung that electricity and water services will be restored in that area very soon. We have observed a concerning distance between the leadership of that municipality and the community in general. We are now working with Cogta [the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs department] to bolster service delivery in that municipality,” said Mabuza. 

“Building a capable state is our priority as government, and we understand that the inconsistent provision of water and electricity has been crippling that municipality, that’s why we have intervened and we are resolving the issues.”

ANC MP Thamsanqa Dodovu said the problems facing the municipality were related to political leadership.  

“[T]here is a bigger crisis in that area and it needs an urgent intervention, and we demand proper transparency from the government on how they are tackling these issues,” Dodovu said. 

Mabuza said that compounding the municipality’s problems was the non-payment for services rendered. 

“People must pay for services that they consume. We have observed that a lot of people in that area of QwaQwa have connected illegally to both the water and electricity systems. This thing of not paying at all for services is unheard of and it sabotages the municipality in terms of revenue,” said Mabuza.

“As soon as Nersa gives Eskom the green light, work will commence. We have a signed service level agreement by both Eskom and the municipality. Eskom has also committed to training and transferring skills  to the municipality workers there, to ensure that electricity supply will not be a problem even after the service agreement has expired.”

DA MP Deandre De Bruin said the Eskom takeover would hobble the municipality further and also threaten its ability to take care of its mounting debt in the future.

Mabuza said the Eskom intervention was not permanent. 

“Eskom will work in that municipality for a set time, and collect revenue. We expect Eskom to take what is due to them, and give the rest to the municipality.”

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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