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Bheki's Ordinary People: Prepaid electricity hearings i...

South Africa

South Africa

Bheki’s Ordinary People: Prepaid electricity hearings in Soweto spark hope among residents

Soweto residents owe Eskom an estimated R4-billion in unpaid electricity bills, while illegal connections deprive the power utility of about R2-billion a year. Eskom claimed prepaid meters helped it recoup millions of rand from users last year, but Soweto residents are not sold on the idea of the meters or the tariffs charged. As hearings into the installation of prepaid meters got under way this week, BHEKI C. SIMELANE asked residents what they thought of it all.

Jonathan Tsiu, 67, Soweto, pensioner

“I don’t know where to start. I get paid R1,200 pension. When I get that money I start with electricity because everything I need to do in the house requires that I have electricity, including my stomach, not to mention my family’s, because one needs to eat. We are really struggling with Eskom’s high price for units. We have never had peace since the installation of the green electricity boxes. Electricity is too expensive. You can’t do anything freely any more because you are always trying to save electricity. We certainly want to pay for our electricity, but the current rates are just far too high. If there is a way the government and Eskom can remove the green boxes for pensioners and work out a plan with a view to giving us a discount. I saw on TV that there is a conference happening here in Soweto, (but) we don’t have much say but the conference does give me hope.”

Elizabeth Chimzima, 63, Soweto, pensioner

“We still sleep on empty stomachs, we are still living from hand to mouth all because of high electricity rates that we simply can’t afford. I’m getting really scared now that winter is approaching. I’m scared for me, for my grandchildren, and the whole family. A large portion of my pension buys electricity. My children are not working because there are no jobs. If you buy R10 worth of units at 11am, by noon they are finished. I wish the ongoing hearings could resolve to quash the prepaid meter system. People are using stolen electricity and Eskom does nothing. That is very painful to those of us who are struggling to pay. Eskom should seriously start prosecuting the thieves. We are the ones that feel the strain in the end. We are not refusing to pay, but we want these boxes removed while a better solution is sought, because they are ripping us off.”

Irene Luthaka, 80, Soweto, pensioner

“Things are still the same here. They are the same as last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. My main concern with the metering system is how dismally its all been handled. There are small electricity boxes in the house, I think its the meter. Mine is broken and I use rubber bands to keep it together. The boxes are left within children’s reach and if it breaks you have to pay for it. My meter was outside, and then they took it inside. Now I have to hire somebody to mount it somewhere because I’m concerned about the safety of my grandkids. Still the people we hire to do Eskom’s job rob and rape us. True, this is what Eskom is putting us through. The hearings are a beacon of hope, especially for us pensioners, the burden is just too much.”

Siyabonga Thwala, 20, Soweto, University of Johannesburg (UJ) student 

“We undertook steps to save electricity in my house. Everything that is not in use is switched off. Lights can only be turned on in those rooms where there are people. Empty rooms are kept dark because we know we need to save to pay less. There isn’t much the hearings currently under way here in Soweto can do to help us. We just need to help ourselves by starting to save electricity. We must use our electricity conservatively, because we all know that at the end of the day we have to pay for it.”

Zama Khumalo, 28, Soweto, unemployed

“Sometimes we feel like Eskom is ripping us off. R100 gives you around 83 units, and if you have your geyser on, that 83 units will not last three days. Their prepaid rates are too high, which in essence makes our electricity very expensive. The service is shocking. Often when you try buy the units in the accredited outlets nearby, you are told either that there is no network or no units. And when you have a chance to buy units elsewhere, you are not always able to load them onto your meter. Which means even though you have the cash to buy yourself some units, you are the same as somebody who can’t because you will sleep on an empty stomach and stay in darkness. Eskom used us as its pilot project. Everything that they need to experiment with starts here in our area. Be it water or electricity meters… we have had enough. The hearings bring hope though that one day our concerns will be thoroughly addressed. And I hope they come up with a cheaper way of charging us.”

Wilson Dlamini, 55, Soweto, Driver

“Why do all these things begin here in Chiawelo? Perhaps they are of the perception that we have lots of money because we live in bond houses. Eskom should start generalising its service supply. Some people do not have these green boxes while some of us do. Why isn’t the service provided uniformly throughout the area? We are not treated equally and we are not pleased. Eskom seems to have far too many issues. I can’t buy electricity in Vereeniging because it will not load on to my meter in Chiawelo, but when I go to the Chiawelo outlets they tell me there is no network or there are no units. The green boxes really abused us, but what I say now is that the green boxes should remain because we have gotten used to them. A new system again might present us with fresh challenges. I don’t think residents here are ready for that now. I just wish they would discount pensioners’ electricity bills, and let everyone else pay because at the end of the day we must also pay for Eskom to survive. I hope the hearings resolve some of our key electricity metering concerns.” DM

Photo: Soweto, Johannesburg Photo: SarahTz (flickr)

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