Sighs of relief in Jansenville as Eskom switches power on again
With the business community having been on a knife’s edge for nine days, Jansenville butcher Eckhard Deyzel breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday when Eskom finally restored full, uninterrupted power supply to the isolated Karoo community.
Deyzel’s business, like many others in the poverty-stricken village which rely on electricity, and the same electricity to power borehole water pumps in the severely arid region, was facing closure this week after Eskom had enforced crippling power cuts.
“If this had gone on any longer, I would certainly have had to close. The generator I have does not meet the needs of the business, which obviously relies on a lot of refrigeration.
“Maladministration and other issues have certainly played a role here. In this town, the more electricity you use, the higher the tariff you get charged, instead of the other way around,” said Deyzel.
The tiny hamlet, some 80km from Graaff-Reinet, falls under the newly formed Dr Beyers Naude local municipality and owes the national utility a whopping R94m in power arrears, prompting Eskom to apply punitive power outages business owners said were nearing a collective 14 hours a day.
And this, according to the town’s administration, residents and business owners, came despite the fact that the vast majority of the town’s power supply is delivered through pre-paid meter systems.
Jansenville’s many woes came to a head early on Tuesday when fed-up residents set about organising a street protest with plans to set tyres alight and demand an end to their troubles.
A handful of enterprises in the village – which suffers an unemployment rate of around 70% – secured some power relief by deploying what were often inadequate generators.
But homes, schools with boarding facilities, a prison, medical and senior citizen facilities, among others, were severely affected by the cuts.
These outages also directly affected water supply, which comes from electrically powered water pumps.
But by late afternoon, and following intense negotiations between the town’s administration, Eskom and a number of government departments started at least two weeks ago, Eskom had restored power and committed to discontinue the disruptions – provided the municipality met its negotiated obligations.
The end to the latest crisis to strike the town – which also suffers infrastructure decay and virtually no economic growth – was formally announced at a public meeting on Tuesday afternoon, where community members raised a plethora of concerns and the municipal leadership laid bare the financial and administrative state of the town.
About 120 community members and business owners packed out a community hall on the outskirts of the town where they were addressed by mayor Deon de Vos and municipal revenue manager Delphine Sauls, who in a candid address aired the town’s issues.
Firstly outlining the power problem, Sauls revealed that the settlement negotiated with Eskom had including ring-fencing the arrears debt, paying the utility several million rands immediately and then providing guarantees around monthly utility payments going forward.
Sauls, in a startling revelation, also told community members that of the R15m in revenue the municipality collected, R12m was spent on municipal salaries and wages, while the remainder was paid over to the power utility.
She said an extra R1m was spent on power, meaning that the monthly municipal budget was in constant shortfall.
“One of the factors that has led to this is that at least 20% of the electricity we purchase from Eskom is lost or stolen through illegal connections.
“In addition, we have significant administrative problems, with regard to rates, electricity and water meters. The administrative system in Jansenville requires a complete overhaul, which we will be doing through the evaluations role,” she said, assuring the community there were long-term plans to put the town back on a solid footing.
Sauls said another factor contributing to the challenges there was that while residents were paying for their power through the pre-paid meter system, many were not paying other accounts, such as rates.
She said the municipality was engaging with the national Treasury and the provincial leadership towards financial relief for the region and other assistance for infrastructure.
Correctional services employee James Goldie told Weekend Post the power situation had had dire effects on prison operations.“We have other major problems here such as the state of roads and other infrastructure.
“We also have a septic tank system here for sewage. We have to pay the municipality an additional charge to empty the tanks, even though we pay a sewage availability fee as part of our rates accounts. We have serious problems here,” he said.
Residents said the power challenges had played havoc with their lives and had had very negative impacts on pupils in the area.
Many attributed the challenges to a bloated municipal workforce, many of whose members they claimed spent their days in shebeens...