Civil rights groups AfriForum and AfriSake have lost their bid for an urgent interim interdict to stop Eskom from reducing the electricity supply to seven municipalities in the Free State.
This means that residents of the Mowhaka, Mailonyana, Nketoana, Mantsopa, Tokologo, Nala and Dihlabeng municipal areas will have to prepare themselves to have no electricity during certain hours of the day from January 16.
The organisations wanted an interim interdict against Eskom pending the outcome of their application in March this year for a court order declaring that Eskom could not cut off electricity to whole municipalities as a debt-collecting measure.
The organisations yesterday expressed disappointment that they could not assist innocent members of the public who would suffer because of the incompetence of their municipalities and said they would now reconsider their stance in the main application.
Judge Hans Fabricius ruled in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria that the inconvenience that would be suffered by members of the public could not outweigh Eskom’s statutory obligations, and its duty to the national economy could not rise above the national interest.
“Municipalities ought to be held accountable. This court will finally decide that issue in March this year,” he said.
The judge stressed that Eskom did not supply electricity to individual members of the public, but had contracts with various municipalities, which in turn had a statutory and constitutional duty to supply basic services to members of the public, including electricity.
Eskom had contracts with the municipalities which legally entitled it to cut off electricity completely should the municipalities fail to pay, but had decided on the least disruptive measures in order to save electricity and lessen the debts.
Eskom had met with various municipalities and stakeholders since 2011 in an attempt to find a solution to the debt of R10.2 billion owed to it. Many of the municipalities had acknowledged their debt to Eskom and made undertakings to pay off their debts, but had reneged on the agreements.
The top 10 municipalities were overdue by over R6 billion while the to 20 owed more than R7.4 billion. In total there were 74 municipalities that were overdue by more than R10 million each.
The judge said Eskom borrowed money to fund capital projects at a huge cost and would have an ongoing need to borrow additional money at an unaffordable cost if it was unable to recover electricity charges.
Eskom said in court papers its inability to recover electricity charges from municipalities would mean that it was faced with the risk of having to write off an additional R1.2 billion this year.
The judge said during legal argument earlier this week that, in a democracy, consumers had the right to let their vote count if they were not satisfied with the services they received from municipalities.