The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the announcement by Deputy President David Mabuza last week that Eskom will take over the management of the electricity function of Maluti-a-Phofung (MaP) municipality.
In 2018 the Harrismith Business Forum approached the Bloemfontein High Court when Eskom threatened to cut electricity supply to MaP. They indicated that they had been paying their electricity bills to the municipality which had not reached Eskom and that the survival of their businesses were under threat due to the large-scale mismanagement in the municipality. The President, various ministers and departments and provincial government were included as respondents in the case. The Business Forum felt that the entire government had failed to ensure service delivery by not intervening in the dysfunctional municipality.
Before the case could be heard, an agreement between the parties was reached whereby Eskom agreed to not cut the electricity supply to MaP. Therefore the parties who had brought the legal action would pay their bills directly to Eskom, and a committee including government departments and private business would be established to find a solution to the massive Eskom debt owed by the municipality, which remains the highest owed by any municipality in South Africa at almost R6 billion. This agreement was declared an order of the court. Despite numerous other court judgements ordering MaP to pay Eskom, this has not happened.
The DA believes that this is a precedent-setting judgement and development, where residents of municipalities are desperate for relief from collapsed municipalities in which there is no will or competence to deliver effective services or manage finances, may approach our courts for Eskom to take over the electricity function from dysfunctional municipalities.
The Eskom proposal was tabled last December, but the ANC in council was reluctant to accept the proposal due to the fact that revenue collected by Eskom will not go into the municipal bank account, but will instead be directly paid over to Eskom. Since then, numerous visits to MaP have been undertaken by political leaders to persuade the ANC caucus to accept the deal. Deputy President Mabuza has twice undertaken visits to MaP, on one occasion accompanied by Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter, where ANC councillors were addressed, apparently to find a political solution. Opposition councillors and stakeholders were invited to the address by the Deputy President last week.
The DA in council supported the proposal that provides for a R1,8 billion investment into the collapsing electricity infrastructure, the collection of electricity revenue including pre-paid electricity by Eskom, and most significantly, the repayment of the R6 billion debt over the 15-year term of the agreement.
Even where municipalities have been placed under administration as has been the case in MaP, Mangaung, Mafube and Masilonyana in the Free State, the financial state of these municipalities shows little improvement. In the interim, national government must do something to prevent further business closures and job losses due to dysfunctional municipal governments.
It remains to be seen whether the ANC-run MaP council finally accepts and embraces this opportunity to correct the failures of the past. A previously appointed electricity service provider, Rural Maintenance Pty Ltd, had to flee the municipality after eight months due to death threats, arson and intimidation. MaP is now be the litmus test for the ‘New Dawn’ of the ANC.