South African town with ’11 hours of load shedding a day’ wins case against Eskom

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has ruled that Eskom cannot cut off electricity supply to the Ngwathe municipality in the Free State and the Lekwa municipality in Mpumalanga, despite the municipalities owing more than R2 billion in outstanding debts.

In a ruling handed down on Monday (24 January), the SCA ordered Eskom to restore full electricity supply to the impacted areas.

In February 2020, Eskom decided to reduce the bulk electricity supply to the “uncooperative” Ngwathe and Lekwa municipalities.

The implementation thereof caused rotational load shedding in the respective municipalities in addition to the national load shedding applied by Eskom whenever the national grid faced overloading.

Consequently, Parys experienced load shedding for approximately more than 11 hours a day in certain instances, and the affected towns in the Lekwa municipality experienced municipal load shedding for up to two hours at a time on average three times a day.

The case against Eskom had originally been brought by resident associations who argued that this reduced energy supply had rendered the two municipalities unable to fulfil their constitutional obligations owed to their citizenry, resulting in a catastrophe unfolding with hospitals, schools, households and businesses severely disrupted.

It also resulted in damage to the environment as a result of water sources being contaminated, particularly the Vaal River, due to damage to the municipal water and sewage systems.

While the major debt owed by these municipalities was not in dispute, the SCA said that Eskom has other dispute resolution remedies available to it to tackle the municipalities – which it did not follow.

“Eskom, therefore, was prima facie not constitutionally and statutorily permitted to unilaterally reduce the bulk electricity supply to the two municipalities to their historic contractually agreed electricity supply levels without it and the two municipalities, in collaboration with the other state role-players, first making every reasonable effort to settle the intergovernmental disputes.

“Had the dispute resolution mechanism been followed, it may well have resulted in the intervention of both the provincial and national levels of government, without which the two municipalities are unlikely to turn their fortunes around on their own.”

Read: This calculator shows how much it will cost you to get off Eskom’s grid

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South African town with ’11 hours of load shedding a day’ wins case against Eskom