Our Burning Planet


‘Please hear us’ – Soweto residents urge Lesufi amid ongoing electricity crisis

‘Please hear us’ – Soweto residents urge Lesufi amid ongoing electricity crisis
Residents from Dobsonville, Zola and Mndeni in Soweto listening to their neighbours express their problems with electricity security to the Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi and Eskom representatives, Kopanong Community Hall, 14 November 2023. (Photo: Julia Evans)

More than 200 Soweto residents gathered at Kopanong Community Hall on Tuesday afternoon to hear what Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi had planned to solve the electricity crisis.

“We don’t like what we wake up to every day, but we are failed by our public servants. Can you please hear us?” said Andile Kunene, who has lived in Dobsonville, Soweto his whole life.

Soweto residents — some who haven’t had electricity for more than a week, others for more than a month — gathered at Kopanong Community Hall in Dobsonville on Tuesday, 14 November, anxious to get the chance to hear from and speak to Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi about their ongoing problems with electricity. 

By 2pm, when the meeting was meant to begin, the hall was full, and more than 100 residents had to sit and stand outside and listen through speakers.  

An hour after the scheduled start of the meeting, the premier’s adviser, Mxolisi Xayiya, and the head of customer relations at Eskom, Henry Thulani Mtshali, addressed the residents. 

Premier Lesufi arrived an hour after that, having apparently been caught up in an emergency meeting. 

After listening to the officials, several residents lined up in front of a microphone to have their say. 

Residents from Dobsonville, Zola and Mndeni in Soweto waiting for Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi to address them on the electricity crisis, Kopanong Community Hall, 14 November 2023. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Residents from Dobsonville, Zola and Mndeni in Soweto listening to Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi and Eskom representatives address them on the electricity crisis, Kopanong Community Hall, 14 November 2023. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Residents’ woes

Warona Sekonyela from Dobsonville Extension 4, who hasn’t had power for more than a month and a half, was first in line to address the premier. “We have a situation where we have been blamed for turning off our own lights,” said Sekonyela. 

“However, it’s important to note, if Eskom did not switch off the lights of all people, even the ones that are paying, sabotagers [sic] would not be able to come in and destroy the infrastructure because it will be piping hot and they will get electrocuted.”

Along with requesting better security (cameras and barriers at substations, and new infrastructure to be built underground), Sekonyela asked Lesufi to investigate Eskom employees and procurement processes.

“Please look into those things and understand that even though they [Eskom] may promise us those things today because you are here, when you are gone they are very unreachable.”

Sekonyela, who is a community leader in Dobsonville, added, “You have the muscle to pressure them to do their jobs, and we are just ordinary people who want to do our jobs and continue with our lives.”

Andile Kunene, who wants to start community programmes for young boys in Dobsonville, said, “If you are a public representative, you are a servant to the people. But we have people that want to be worshipped,” which elicited cheers of agreement from the audience.

“The only time they will start respecting us is when they want us to vote for them in an election,” Kunene added.

Maybell Dipale, who lives in RDP housing in Thubelisha, told Daily Maverick that despite paying for electricity, she hasn’t had it since last Monday.

And this is not the first time. In 2019 she had no electricity during the whole of winter because of a burnt-out transformer, which was replaced only in September that year.

Dipale, who is in her seventies, lives with her grandchildren and said having no electricity “is extremely serious because the kids are writing exams”.

“It’s very, very hard. Last night I nearly burned myself, because I had to put water in a pot on a gas stove.”

Her neighbour Eunice Makhathina, said, “I’m the one who’s been buying electricity for my house, since day one, until today. But why must I die for other people? What must I do now?” 

She said many elderly people who have high blood pressure can’t refrigerate their medication.

“We want to know what the action plan is,” said Thabo Nduyani from Dobsonville Extension 2, who hasn’t had power for eight days.  

Nduyani said that not having electricity for eight days “has affected me a lot, because most of the people buy groceries for the whole month, so the food rotted, and got wasted during the week”.

Dobsonville resident Zizi Kunene addresses Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, Kopanong Community Hall, Soweto. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Soweto residents lined up to express their frustration, Kopanong Community Hall, 14 November 2023. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Premier’s response

“I’m honestly, truly sorry for what you’re going through. It breaks my heart,” Lesufi said after hearing the residents’ woes. “I attend these types of meetings almost every day.”

Lesufi acknowledged the communication problems, pledging to set up a platform on which Eskom informs his office and the community of issues, giving them a chance to rectify these before Eskom disconnects the power.

Other interventions included a R6,000 fine for anyone who buys electricity from dodgy vendors or those who have illegal connections.

“We need to separate those who can afford to pay and those who cannot afford to pay. And be honest with ourselves,” said Lesufi, which was met by murmurs of agreement.

“The painful part is that there are people who can afford to pay and are hiding behind those who can’t.”

Lesufi said that more than 500 transformers would be replaced across the province, adding that the Gauteng provincial government had set aside R1.2-billion to replace transformers “so that before Christmas, we must not have this problem of transformers in Gauteng”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Pushing the limits: Why load shedding puts even more pressure on an ageing electrical system

This funding is part of the provincial government’s new five-point strategy to respond to the electricity crisis, which Lesufi said came about through collaboration with the National Energy Crisis Committee, local governments and energy experts.

The five points are:

  1. Eliminating all illegal power connections;
  2. Installing smart meters in every home and business;
  3. Improving revenue collection;
  4. Clearing the indigent register; and
  5. Replacing all damaged transformers.

“The province plans to include smart grid technology to increase the energy infrastructure’s security and resilience, accelerate the informal settlement communities’ formalisation to enable electrification and reduce unlawful connections,” Lesufi said when the plan was released.

“We also want to adopt a backyard dwellers policy to accommodate landlords and tenants.” 

Residents from Dobsonville, Zola and Mndeni in Soweto listening to Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi and Eskom representatives, Kopanong Community Hall, 14 November 2023. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Scrapping debt

“We went to the President and said, ‘President you went to Soweto the last time to campaign, and the people of Soweto complained that they do not have electricity, and secondly they have debts which they do not know where it comes from and they requested that that debt is erased,’” the premier said in Sesotho to the Soweto residents.

“So we persuaded the President, and he agreed. We also spoke to the minister of finance … So the debt that was owed to Eskom by municipalities was removed/erased.”

Lesufi said that they were asking municipalities and Eskom to erase the electricity debt, “so we start on a clean slate. Some of these debts belong to our great-great-grandparents.”

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi addresses Soweto residents about the Gauteng Energy Response Plan at Kopanong Community Hall. (Photo: Julia Evans)

He said that Eskom had agreed to erase municipalities’ debt. “The only thing we are asking now is that it does not end there; municipalities must also go down to the people to remove/erase their debt.” 

Lesufi’s spokesperson, Sizwe Pamla, confirmed Lesufi was referring to the debt relief programme that was outlined in the February Budget to allow municipalities and provinces that are struggling to pay electricity bills to negotiate with Eskom and the national government.

“The debt … will be written off over a three-year period, in equal annual tranches,” Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said when delivering the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement on 1 November.

“This is provided the municipality complies with set conditions, [which] include enforcing strict credit controls, enhanced revenue collection [and] up-to-date payment of Eskom monthly current account.”

He added that by October this year, 67 applications for debt relief had been submitted, totalling R56.8-billion or 97% of the total municipal debt owed to Eskom at the end of March. 

Final thoughts

The premier said he would be back in exactly a week to check up on the progress. 

After the meeting, Soweto resident Dipale said the meeting was fruitful, and the premier was “talking sense to me”.

 “Let’s give him a chance, he made time to listen to us…but 30 years don’t forget,” Dobsonville resident Kunene said referring to the ANC’s time in power. DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Garth Kruger says:

    There is an election coming up. Suddenly thre politicians care.

  • John Buchan says:

    Puhleez, spare us the goon show. Even if he did care, which I personally doubt, the ruling elite simply hasn’t got the brain power/intellect let alone the moral backbone to even begin to sort this mess out. In short we are governed by self serving compassion bereft cretins.

  • William Kelly says:

    There were cameras there. Lesufi magnets I call them. It’s why I only use mine secretively – I don’t want that mofo anywhere near me! “Debts are of great grandparents” – yeah.. Right… Sure… What a muppet.

  • Con Tester says:

    There is compelling empirical evidence that, in contrast to a well-developed hollow gabbiness, Lesufi does not in fact have anything that can be said to resemble a heart.

    The Ekskrom debt relief programme is a morally disgraceful ANC election subterfuge designed to secure more votes at the taxpayer’s expense.

  • Art Gee says:

    Nothing but an electioneering gathering…
    Lesufi cannot, and will not do anything about these poor people… all he achieved was giving them a “wheelbarrow of promises” like they all do prior to an upcoming election!!!

  • This is just electioneering. People don’t be fooled, no politician cares about the citizens. They are all the same.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Sorry, we’re out solving the Gaza crisis. Back in 30 minutes.

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