The Emalahleni local municipality in Mpumalanga has revealed that it owes Eskom over R5-billion for unpaid electricity.
It has, therefore, handed over to its lawyers the accounts of some 30 defaulting customers, in a quest to collect the revenue and pay the debt.
Emalahleni's communications manager, Lebo Mofokeng, told News24 this week the municipality was experiencing a high rate of non-payment of various services by residents, businesses and some government departments.
He said the current rate of unemployment in Emalahleni was high, adding that it also contributed to the non-payment issue.
"If you have electricity arrears that are more than three months, we will cut off your power supply, but it's negotiable if you make arrangements to pay," said Mofokeng.
"About 30 big and small businesses in Emalahleni have been handed over to the attorneys for them to make [payment] arrangements for electricity. The municipality has adopted and is vigorously implementing the credit control and debt collection policy on all defaulting customers."
Mofokeng said the municipality was paying its over R5-billion debt to Eskom on a monthly basis. He said the power utility would not cut off power supply to the municipality in the near future.
"The municipality has won a case against Eskom in the Constitutional Court and power will not be switched off any time soon, unless Eskom approaches the court again," said Mofokeng.
Jonas Nkambule, a resident of Ackerville in Emalahleni, said the impact of the pandemic was the main reason for his household electricity account being in arrears.
"I was retrenched from my job at an upholstery firm in May last year," said Nkambule.
I tried looking for another stable job, without success, and I now rely on part-time, odd jobs to make a living. I have not yet received a call or letter from the lawyers of the municipality, but I will negotiate and make arrangements with them to pay the arrears.
Nkambule did not want to reveal how much he owed the municipality for electricity.
Another resident, James Zulu, said he would go to the municipality to arrange to pay his electricity arrears on a monthly basis.
He also attributed his failure to pay his debt to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Our salaries were reduced after the outbreak of Covid-19 and I could not regularly pay some of my monthly bills," said Zulu, who claimed to be a mineworker.
"My life is slowly returning back to normal and I hope the municipality will give me enough time to pay my electricity debt."
Eskom's national spokesperson, Sikhonathi Mantshantsha, confirmed that Emalahleni owed the power utility more than R5-billion for unpaid electricity.
"I'm not aware of that [Constitutional Court] case. But there is a number of cases in Mpumalanga and other provinces in which the municipalities that owe Eskom went to court to prohibit Eskom from cutting off their power supply," said Mantshantsha.