Stability Watch

Eskom’s blackout plans could tip SA into widespread revolt

Dangers in Eskom’s plan

Eskom’s plans to cut electricity supply to 20 debt-defaulting municipalities could tip large parts of the country into civil unrest as the general political environment is radicalising on many fronts.

An analysis of the plan announced last Friday by Eskom to cut bulk electricity supplies to the top 20 defaulting municipalities in terms of their debt to the utility, will impact on more than 3,7 million people in 85 towns and cities across seven of the nine provinces. (See table A below.)

The Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal are the only two provinces that will not be affected. On the other end of the scale is the Free State with seven municipalities on the list. It includes 30 towns and cities, which are home to 16 million people or 41.5% of the province’s population. 

In terms of the number of towns and people affected, Mpumalanga on the list with five municipalities consisting of 26 towns housing 1,05 million people (28% of its total population), will be second worst off.

Short on Mpumalanga’s heels is the North West Province with three municipalities consisting of 11 towns housing 1,04 million people or 28% of its total population.

Overall, the 3,7 million people who will be affected represent about 10% of the 37 million strong population of the seven provinces. (See table B below.)

The overall average per province is brought down by the only two Gauteng municipalities on the list of twenty.

However, the two Gauteng municipalities on the list, Westonaria and Randfontein, share borders with the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, Merafong City Local Municipality, Sedibeng District Municipality and Emfuleni Local Municipality.

This larger area represents South Africa’s most densely populated region with the danger of unrest and/or protest in one area easily spilling over to adjacent areas. This has, in fact, been the pattern in recent times with, among other things, xenophobic attacks and service delivery protests.

Hitting the wrong targets

It would appear as if Eskom has attempted to minimise the impact of the power cuts on economic activity in the way it schedules the cuts – during the week from 06h00 to 10h00, and 17h00 to 21h00, and over weekends between 07h00 to 10h00, and 17h00 to 20h00.

While this might be the least disruptive hours for most businesses, it is also the most inconvenient times of the day for ordinary households.

Eskom’s target is the top 20 defaulting municipalities, which collectively already owe it R3.68 billion, as is clear from Friday’s statement by its interim chief executive Zethembe Khoza. It reads in part: “We have ... decided to exercise our right according to the provisions of the Electricity Regulation Act 4 of 2006 and the supply agreement with municipalities, which entitled us to disconnect the supply of electricity to defaulting municipalities.”

Eskom’s spokesperson, Khulu Phasiwe, told Eyewitness News the company is now taking drastic measures to ensure it is paid. “We have decided as a company that we needed to get that money back. And we are now saying from 5 June we are going to interrupt their electricity supply if they do not pay the money,” he said.

In practice however, ordinary households and to some extent private businesses will bear the brunt of the planned action, while most of them have paid for their electricity. It will also be feeding into an increasingly radicalising public domain, from the campaign around historic monuments and statues and occupation of vacant land by homeless people to a very restive labour environment.

Unless the cabinet’s ‘war room’, set up to deal with the Eskom crisis, finds a way to avoid the threatening confrontation between the utility and its debtor municipalities, government might just in the middle of the oncoming winter have to deal with a ‘war’ on the streets much closer to the real thing.

Table A: Listed municipalities in numbers

    Municipalities         Population  Towns  Province

1   Maluti-a-Phofung        335 784     3        Free Sate

2   Matjhabeng                  406 461     6        Free Sate

3   Emalahleni                   395 466     5        Mpumalanga

4   Ngwathe                       120 520     5        Free Sate

5   Thaba Chweu               98 387      5        Mpumalanga

6   Lekwa                           115 662     3        Mpumalanga

7   Govan Mbeki               294 538     8        Mpumalanga

8   City of Matlosana        398 676     4       North West

9   Naledi                              24 314     3       Free Sate

10 Thabazimbi                    85 234     3       Limpopo

11 Msukaligwa                 149 377     5       Mpumalanga

12 Lichtenburg                 168 902     3       North West

13 Nala                                81 220     3       Free Sate

14 Makana                          80 390     4       Eastern Cape

15 Madibeng                    477 381     4       North West

16 Randfontein                149 286     1       Gauteng

17 Dihlabeng                    128 704    6       Free Sate

18 Nketoana                        60 324    4       Free Sate

19 Nama Khoi                     47 041    9       Northen Cape

20 Westonaria                   111 767    1      Gauteng

          Totals                    3 729 434   85

Table B: Provincial picture

Province    Munspl.  Towns   Population affected  Total population  % affected

Free State        7             30                1 157 327               2 786 800                   41.5

Mpumalanga   5             26                1 053 430               4 229 300                     25

North West       3             11                1 044 959               3 676 300                     28

Gauteng            2              2                    261 053             12 914 800                      2

Eastern Cape  1              4                       80 390               6 786 900                       1

Northern Cape 1             9                       47 041               1 166 700                        4

Limpopo            1             3                       85 234                5 630 500                      1.5

Totals               20          85                   3 729 434             37 191 300                 10% ave.

by Piet Coetzer

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