Power struggle

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

The news that some municipalities have requested double digit increases for electricity is not good news.

Most of us don’t have to be told to cut back on our electricity usage – those who want to keep putting food on the table are basically forced to run around switching off non-essential electrical appliances and installing solar panels to heat their water.

But still, most people will tell you that their electricity bills have more than doubled in the last few years. These days it’s not unusual to receive a bill for a couple of thousand Rands, which has to be paid if the lights are to remain on. But the really bad news is that a significant proportion of the population in certain municipalities will be paying a whole lot more if those councils get their way.

Above-average increases requested

A recent report in the Sunday Independent stated that 13 municipalities have applied for above-average tariff increases. According to the article, The National Energy Regulator of SA has held public meetings on these applications, which, in certain cases far exceed the 7.39% that has already been approved for the 2014/15 financial year. The decision on whether or not to approve the proposed hikes will be taken before 1 July when the annual general increase kicks in.

It appears that some citizens are going to suffer more than others if the requests are approved and, interestingly, it’s not those who live in larger centres who are going to be hardest hit. The Tswelopele municipality, which services the Free State towns of Bultfontein, Phahameng, Hoopstad and Tikwana, has applied for a 15% hike. Before you breathe a sigh of relief, the Tshwane and Buffalo City municipalities have also requested substantial hikes. Consumers living in and around Pretoria may have to fork out an additional 9.2%, while those living in East London and the Bhisho area may be forced to pay an extra 10.76% to keep their water warm.

Losses and theft

Although the reasons for the requested increases vary, Tshwane, Cape Town and Buffalo City attribute the proposed increases to electricity losses. According to the report, these losses are around the R1.1-billion mark. This figure makes for scary reading. Tshwane has suffered the most and has reported a loss of more than R622-million, due, it says, to theft, tampering and faulty meters. Cape Town has fared slightly better but still reported losses of approximately R622-million, which it attributes to theft and vandalism, while Buffalo City recorded losses of just over R85-million.

Other municipalities that have requested above-average increases include Abaqulusi in KZN, Beaufort West in Western Cape, Emalahleni in Mpumalanga, Inxuba in Eastern Cape and Hantam in Northern Cape.

While no one is suggesting that all of the increases are necessary solely due to theft, the fact that some law-abiding citizens are being asked to pay extra because of this ongoing problem is deeply concerning. Perhaps the time has come for municipalities to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards those who resort to stealing power.

After all, why should those who pay their way be forced to pay more, in effect subsidising those who continue to steal municipal resources?

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