Lights out for ‘rich’ South Africans

 ·18 Jun 2024

City Power, Joburg’s power utility, is ramping up its efforts to disconnect non-paying customers, with a particular focus on affluent areas.

The utility revealed in May that thousands of ‘affluent’ customers and businesses were stealing electricity by bypassing their smart meters.

It said on 30 May that it had already converted over 10,000 ‘non-vending’ smart prepaid meters belonging to these customers back to post-paid meters.

Speaking to eNCA, the City of Joburg’s Nyaniso Jeku said that the utility would now be ramping up credit control measures – ie disconnections – in the “northern suburbs” of the city, as officials try to recover unpaid debt.

“If you look at the areas we are going to be disconnecting, these are areas where residents should not have a problem paying,” he said.

Jeku said that warnings to property owners have fallen on deaf ears, and so now the city is taking aggressive action.

“It’s a behavioural issue. It’s a choice issue. It’s an issue of people choosing not to pay or at least not prioritising their (municipal bills).

“(We are now) segmenting and categorising areas to determine the aggression and prioritisation of credit control,” Jeku said.

The city is targeting the northern suburbs like Midrand, Steyn City, Bryanston and Kyalami, which collectively owe over R500 million in unpaid bills.

City Power as a whole is sitting with around R10 billion debt from non-paying customers.

The push to collect unpaid bills comes even as the City of Joburg’s services are in a severe crunch, with City Power implementing load reduction to prevent grid collapse and Rand Water about to launch a major maintenance regime that will leave areas with low or no water.

The city was forced to turn to “stringent measures” to prevent the grid from collapsing, including intensifying the implementation of ripple relay systems to cut electricity to geysers in homes where the systems are under threat, reducing load at substations with higher consumption and those under threat, and intensifying cut-off operations against illegal connections.

Load reduction is being implemented during peak times from 06h00 to 10h00 and 16h00 to 22h00 in high-density areas and suburbs with concerning usage levels that threaten to overload the electricity equipment.

Rand Water’s maintenance schedule will run from 22 June to 29 July 2024, with different areas impacted at different times.

Adding to the city’s billing mess is the swathe of rate hikes coming into effect next month, including electricity and water.

South African households are already under immense pressure, and from 1 July the bills that are going unpaid will escalate even higher.

Jeku said that the non-payment of bills is a massive issue for the city, however, as it has its own bills to pay.

The city is also not entirely without sympathy for residents and has previously offered discounts and payment holidays to property owners who come forward and arrange a payment plan to ultimately pay off their debts.

Read: Joburg complexes, businesses and prepaid electricity users are in deep trouble

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