Afriforum loses bid to stop blackouts

The High Court in Pretoria has dismissed with costs AfriForum’s application to prevent Eskom from cutting off municipalities’ power supply.

AfriForum had argued that Eskom’s decision to impose blackouts on municipalities whose accounts were in arrears‚ would punish businesses and residents for the municipalities’ failures.

Some SA homesmay soon be in the dark after the Pretoria High Court ruled against Afriforum’s attempt to block Eskom from cutting power to non-paying municipalities. Picture: FILE

Eskom agreed in court on Wednesday to delay blackouts planned for seven Free State and three North West municipalities — which owe about R700 million to the utility — until January 16‚ to give them time to pay their arrears.

Acting Eskom CE Matshela Koko welcomed Thursday’s decision by the High Court.

In a statement issued by the utility after the ruling‚ he said that although Eskom was legally permitted to cut power supply altogether when municipalities were in arrears‚ it had chosen to take a “less invasive approach”‚ with limited power disruptions.

Its original plan was to halt power in the municipialities in question from 6am to 8am and 5pm to 7.30pm‚ Monday to Friday; and from 8.30am to 11am and 3pm to 5.30pm on weekends.

“We didn’t take this path lightly as a company‚ we agonised on this matter endlessly‚” Koko said.

“Besides the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act process‚ with which we fully complied‚ we embarked on a wide community-awareness initiative.”

He also said that Eskom would be in breach of the Public Finance Management Act and its licence conditions if it had not acted to collect the revenue due to it and enforce the conditions of its supply agreements with municipalities.

Eskom said Judge Hans Fabricius had‚ in his ruling‚ “emphasised the context in which Eskom operates in the national economy‚ seen against the background of its constitutional rights and obligations”‚ as well as municipalities’ duties to honour their obligations to Eskom.

AfriForum said it was disappointed at the outcome of the case and remained of the opinion that Eskom‚ as a state-managed entity‚ has other legal measures at its disposal to recover its fees.

“To punish paying and law-abiding citizens and institutions for the negligence of incompetent municipal administrations does not make sense‚” it said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon.

“The approach of Eskom to threaten… the summary power cuts of full municipal areas remains a draconic and unconstitutional measure which boils down to collective disadvantage of payers‚ as well as non-payers.”

Marcus Pawson‚ Head of Local Government and Environmental Affairs for AfriForum‚ said electricity is classified as an essential service and paying service-consumers‚ old-age homes‚ hospitals‚ schools and emergency services were being disadvantaged due to the culture of non-payment among certain residents and the mismanagement of municipalities by incompetent officials.

“We have sympathy with Eskom and its frustrations with municipal officials‚ but at the same time Eskom cannot solely hold municipalities responsible for its financial situation while Soweto alone has debt similar to that of the top 10 municipalities in arrears. Questions must be asked over why remote areas are being punished and not Soweto?” said Pawson. — Tiso Black Star Group/BusinessLIVE