Is cutting power really the best solution to non-payment of electricity?


Eskom has announced that it will start disconnecting power from 52 towns in 16 local municipalities across four provinces from today. This follows a recent North Gauteng High Court ruling which rejected AfriForum’s appeal to prevent the power utility from taking this action.

Roger Lilley

In a statement on Eskom’s website today, the power utility identifies 16 municipalities which will suffer power interruptions as a result of non-payment for electricity supplied to them by Eskom (Table 1).

The concern, of course, is that a number of residents within the 52 towns within these municipalities might be totally up-to-date with their electricity payments to their local municipalities and will suffer unfairly as a result of Eskom’s actions. This will surely have a negative effect on businesses in the areas and could lead to job losses and civil unrest.

Surely a better solution would be for the power utility to initiate legal action against the officials of each defaulting municipality, so that, in the words of North Gauteng High Court judge Hans Fabricius in his recent ruling, municipalities will be held accountable. In other words, municipal officials who fail to pay Eskom for the electricity the municipality has consumed should be prosecuted.

After all, the supply agreement is between a local municipality and Eskom, so a municipality’s office bearers – perhaps in the form of its manager and/or mayor – must be held legally accountable for the non-payment of invoices for electricity consumed within its jurisdiction. Similarly, a local municipality must hold each consumer to which it supplies electricity accountable for payment.

To simply interrupt a number of towns by cutting the supply to an entire local municipality will affect hundreds of thousands of people and is surely not be the right way to handle the situation. For example, according to Stats SA’s population figures, 588 000 residents will be affected in the local municipality of Mbombela, 108 000 of which reside in Nelspruit; and in the case of the local municipality of eMalahleni, 395 000 residents will be affected, 58 000 of whom live in Witbank, when the utility interrupts the power supply to these municipalities. That’s nearly a million people!

One wonders, over and above the ethics of this decision, what social upheaval will result. How many people will lose their jobs? Will residents rise up in anger against their local municipalities and incur millions of rand worth of damage as we have witnessed in other anti-municipal riots in the recent past?

Another aspect to consider is that, although many of Eskom’s direct customers in Soweto and elsewhere owe the power utility many millions of rand in unpaid electricity bills, no similar action appears to be planned. The power utility says it will install pre-paid meters at these customers’ premises in an attempt to get payment for future electricity consumption, with no mention of recovering the debt.

It is understood that Eskom will interrupt the supply of electricity to the municipalities between the hours of 06h00 and 08h00 and from 17h00 to 19h30 on week days, and between the hours of 08h30 to 11h00 and 15h00 to 17h30 on weekends.

Table 1: The towns and municipalities where power will be cut [1].
Free State province
Local municipality Affected towns Date on which interruption will commence
Dihlabeng Bethlehem 16 January 2017
Paul Roux
Masilonyana Theunissen 16 January 2017
Northern Cape province
Local municipality Affected towns Date on which interruption will commence
Ubuntu Victoria-Wes 18 January 2017
Renosterberg Van der Kloof 18 January 2017
North West province
Local municipality Affected towns Date on which interruption will commence
Ventersdorp Ventersdorp 16 January 2017
Tshing Township
Mamusa Schweizer-Reneke 16 January 2017
Naledi Vryburg 16 January 2017
Lekwa-Teemane Bloemhof 18 January 2017
Maquassi Hills Wolmaransstad 18 January 2017
Madibeng Britstown 18 January 2017
Industrial Area
Kgetleng Rivier Koster 18 January 2017
Mpumalanga province
Local municipality Affected towns Date on which interruption will commence
eMalahleni Doornpoort 23 January 2017
Mkhondo Piet Retief
Mbombela Mbombela Stadium/ Ilanga Mall
Riverside/ Nelsrivier
White River
Lekwa Standerton
Msukaligwa Ermelo
Carolina Town 23 January 2017
Chief Albert Luthuli Silobela 23 January 2017


[1] Eskom: “Eskom suspends supply interruptions to 5 municipalities who have paid”,

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