Tshwane mayor Randall Williams ignored pleas that Covid-19 lockdown restrictions had affected business and trading as he ordered the power to defaulting customers be switched off in a bid to address what the city said was a R17-billion debtors book.
Government buildings, luxury hotels, embassies and various businesses were plunged into darkness as the City of Tshwane cut off power to enforce payment of arrears due to it.
Williams — a member of the Democratic Alliance, which leads a multiparty coalition in the city — joined his municipal workers on Wednesday as they crisscrossed the country’s capital city to cut the power of customers that are in arrears and “run up high service bills”.
“This campaign is no publicity stunt, we mean business and we intend to go after all our [debts]. They cannot continue to consume our services for free,” Williams asserted, adding, “all debtors have an obligation to pay the city for services rendered.”
Of the R17-billion in unpaid electricity tariffs owed to Tshwane, Williams said residential customers owed the city R8-billion, whereas private businesses and government departments, including embassies, were R4-billion and R1.3-billion in arrears, respectively.
The biggest business casualty of Wednesday’s blitz was the luxury Sheraton Hotel in Arcadia, which is right across the street from the Union Buildings grounds. The Sheraton Hotel, the city revealed, had an unpaid electricity bill of R23-million.
The biggest state defaulter was, ironically, the commercial crimes court on Visagie Street, which Tshwane said owed more than R2.2-million.
Responding to the Sheraton Hotel manager’s pleas that the unpaid bill was due to a huge knock on its business following the almost two years of the national state of disaster in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw the imposition of trade and movement restrictions, Williams insisted that the city was obligated by municipal legislation to recover money due to it.
“How do we run the operations – how do we afford to run the operations of the city if we have no revenue due to the city?” Williams asked.
In a statement, the mayor said this week’s blitz focused on government buildings, embassies, public entities and business, while the next phase would target estates, residential complexes and residential areas.
“We would like to warn clients that we will enforce the law if they should reconnect services illegally. This will not be tolerated,” Williams said.