Eskom is facing an uphill battle in Soweto, in Gauteng, as well as in other municipalities, where people are increasingly refusing to pay for electricity, with a sharp drop in payments since last year.
The picture is particularly bad in Soweto, where Eskom staff also face a risk of violence.
“We are trying to engage the communities in Soweto, while at the same time, our staff are being attacked and transformers are [vandalised],” Eskom chairperson and acting CEO Jabu Mabuza told a joint meeting of Parliamentary portfolio committees in Cape Town on Tuesday.
An inter-Ministerial task team had been appointed to find solutions to the outstanding R38-billion in municipal debt but progress was "painstakingly slow" and the yield had not been encouraging, added Mabuza.
“Some of this is because of the various disputes that we are having with customers who have taken us to court or some of the Constitutional issues that we have got into.”
Invoiced municipal arrears debt, including interest, has increased by R6.3-billion since last year to the current R19.9-billion across South African municipalities, on top of the arrears in Soweto, said Mabuza.
Invoiced arrears in Soweto alone have increased from R15-billion in 2018 to R18-billion this year.
Mabuza said a culture had set in where people say ‘Why should I have to pay when my neighbour doesn’t pay'.
“We cannot continue to think it will stop . . . on electricity, water or toll roads. There’s no guarantee it will stop in public sector services. That is more worrisome than the quantum of the percentage of our sales,” said Mabuza.
Eskom has called on government to intervene on municipal debt overall, as well as with regard to the debt owed by Soweto.
Mabuza said Eskom’s infrastructure continued to be under threat from vandalism, with a worrying move towards cutting transmission lines.
While loss of generation was a problem, he said the impact on transmission was a bigger threat.
“Vandals chop the pylons. It happened last week in Roodepoort, and also recently in the Nigel area. The loss of transmission can take an entire community out for an extended time – for up to a month.”