By ROD AMNER and OVAYO MILISA NOVUKELA
The Grahamstown Business Forum (GBF) and the Makana Residents Association (MRA) have threatened to take the Makana Municipality back to court over its ballooning Eskom current account debt, which stood at R29.2-million in March.
GBF chairperson Richard Gaybba said he was astonished to read a report from the last Makana Council meeting in March, announcing that the municipality had paid off the last of the arrears it owed to Eskom.
Gaybba said it was “disingenuous” to claim that the last of that Eskom arrears had been paid off this year because, by March, Makana owed R29.2-million in arrears to Eskom. The amount is probably much larger now, Gaybba said.
“They think they’re circumnavigating this thing because they say they have paid the historical debt. It’s nonsense,” Gaybba said. “The only reason they’ve paid it is because they failed to pay the current account.”
Makana owed Eskom R85-million on 30 June 2018.
The GBF and the MRA, along with two large businesses in Makhanda, took Eskom and Makana Municipality and others to court in 2019 to prevent punitive electricity cuts due to non-payment by Makana. The Honourable Justice Beshe granted upheld a court order mandating that Makana municipality pay monthly Eskom bills fully and on time. In addition, there is also a payment plan ordering Makana to pay off the outstanding debt in instalments.
By the time former Executive Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa left in November 2021, the debt had been reduced to R15-million.
“But, they’ve just haven’t paid the current account – the deal was that they had to pay the historical debt and keep the current account at zero,” Gaybba said.
“March’s invoice is for R39.4-million [with arrears of R29.2-million]. With April’s and May’s invoices, the arrears will be much, much bigger.”
“They think they have appeased Eskom – they haven’t. Eskom board member Busisiwe Mavuso is a feisty lady to go and tell Scopa precisely what the problem is with Eskom. Eskom is not going to tolerate this.
“I’ve spoken to senior people in Eskom who say Makana’s time is running out. Rewinding to October 2018, we were threatened with eight hours of load shedding during the day, every day.
“If one looks at what the petrol price was then compared to now – it’s vastly different. You cannot operate the university, schools, or businesses on a generator – it’s just not sustainable in the long term.
“And what will happen with our water pumping stations and treatment plants? We are currently protected during Stages 1-3 – our water pumps stay on. But, by rights, Eskom could cut off our power during load shedding.
“I can’t say what Eskom is going to do or not do. The reality is that they’re switching off national government department buildings for non-payment. We are just a small municipality in the Eastern Cape,” he said.
“Makana is misappropriating funds by using Eskom as an overdraft facility. This is prohibited by legislation and by the court order. The acting CFO [Colleen Mani] claims that the long term debt is fully paid, but this is a sleight of hand. They did this by not paying the full current amount since this is all one invoice – this is disingenuous and grounds to warn them of contempt.”
“We understand that things are a mess. We understand that nearly every municipality in the country has used Eskom as an overdraft facility. A very prominent member of the ANC said to me; you are naive to think that you said you don’t pay Eskom as a municipality. That’s not what municipalities do. It’s this constant game of cat and mouse.”
“But we are sitting with a massive economic problem that we do not have a reliable power supply. Now, how is Escom supposed to supply us with electricity? We are on a cliff – we don’t know when Eskom is suddenly going to say, ‘We’ve had enough of you’.
“Last year, we had these beautiful articles in the press about how well Makana was doing in paying Eskom. You are congratulating a fish for swimming. The reality is Makana did not pay.
“One of the simplest things on the court order that Makana has to do is provide an affidavit to the court every second or third month. Since 2018, they have not, as far as I’m aware, submitted one affidavit – not one. They did not come to court to oppose this court order. Does Makana not respect the rule of law?”
“The previous mayor [Mpahlwa] wrote an open letter published in Grocott’s Mail. He cited a very rude email exchange between himself and the Municipal Manager Moppo Mene over this very matter.
“The moment mayor Mzukisi Mphalwa and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Gerard Goliath left, Makana stopped paying. Both Mphalwa and Goliath were very open and communicative,” Gaybba said.
Several requests over ten days from Grocott’s Mail for comment from the acting CFO Colleen Mani were not answered.