Eskom threatens to switch Free State municipalities off

By Jan Cronje and Khulekani Magubane for Fin24

Centlec, the Free State utility that provides electricity to customers in the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality, which includes Bloemfontein, says it will meet with Eskom on Thursday to discuss the paying of its debts.

On Monday Eskom warned that it would interrupt daytime power to three Free State municipalities from December 3 unless they paid their debts or entered into payment plans. They are the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality, the Mafube local municipality and the Mantsopa local municipality.

In a statement, Centlec spokesperson Lele Mamatu said “everything possible will be done to keep the lights on”.

“Our view is that this matter could have been better handled without causing panic to our customer in general however we are hopeful there’s still a room to can find each other.”

Mamatu said that Centlec has a “good track record of managing its electricity account with Eskom”.

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Eskom, which has a group debt burden of about R450bn, acknowledged on Monday that “indefinitely” stopping the provision of electricity to the three municipalities would cause “undue hardships on consumers”.

It said that, if it cannot enter into agreements with the municipalities, it would withhold electricity for 16 hours per day between 06:00 and 20:00 on weekdays and weekends from December 3, but provide electricity overnight for eight hours.

As of September 2019, Eskom was owed R25.1bn by municipalities countrywide. The warning to the three municipalities comes after National Treasury in November imposed the recovery of billions of rand of municipal debt as one of 28 conditions that Eskom must adhere to in return for a R59bn lifeline. President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the bill granting Eskom the funds last week.

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