About 50 community members and activists took to the streets of Cape Town in a march against Eskom’s electricity tariff hike. Eskom was approved by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) to increase electricity by 9.6% for Eskom’s standard tariff customers, and 8.6% for those that get electricity from municipalities. The flaring of electricity tariffs which will come into effect as from the 1st of April has caused distress to poor community members especially because they currently cannot afford electricity.
Jo-Anne Cupido from Blikkiesdorp, an informal settlement in Delft, told Elitsha that the electricity tariff increase will affect her monthly budget as she depends on foster grants. Cupido estimated that she spends close to R400 per month for electricity. “The majority of the grant money goes to electricity and with what is left I have to buy food but there is always less for food”, she said.
Feziwe Sigqumo, who has been unemployed for the last five years, added, “I depend on my mother’s and the children’s grant money as no one is working at home. I think they should decrease electricity because it is hard,” said the Khayelitsha resident.
In the memorandum that was delivered to parliament, the protesters demanded an immediate stop to the electricity tariffs and fuel price increases, rejecting the 9.6% increase and calling on access to energy for basic needs.
While the tariff hike is said to have a positive impact on the economy according to Hasha Tlhotlhalemaje, the General Manager for Regulation at Eskom, the protesters said that they will further impoverish those that cannot afford electricity. Naiela Baatjies, an unemployed backyarder from Maitland, said that she has tried gas as an alternative but she can’t cope on her sole source of income, child grants. “I pay R700 per month for electricity for me and my kids. With the new hikes, how are we going to cope? Government needs to look at how they spend money and bring solar panels so that we get electricity from a natural source,” said Baatjies.
While the main issue at hand during the march was electricity tariff hikes, marchers made reference to the rising cost of fuel and food and the detrimental effect it has the quality of their lives. Kashiefa Achmat from Housing Assembly said that the poor are the ones who will be worse affected. “The fuel prices will cause a ripple effect on taxis as they will increase fares. Most of the poor live on the outskirts of Cape Town and have to travel to town and the food prices have increased. Unions and organisations need to come on board,” said Achmat.
The campaign opposing the tariff hikes also rejects prepaid electricity meters and calls for a sliding-scale of tariffs – the more you earn, the more you pay. There must be adequate and free basic electricity provision for the unemployed and pensioners. They reject the Renewable Independent Power Producers (IPP) programme of Eskom and demand renewable energy systems controlled democratically by workers and communities.
In an email response to Elitsha, councillor Siseko Mbandezi, the city’s MEC for Finance said that Cape Town tried to absorb the 9.5% tariff increase but they could not anymore as they are expected to deliver services to the residents of the city. “The c ity has tried its very best to absorb this with a 9.5% tariff increase. Unfortunately we cannot absorb any more of the Eskom-driven increase, as we need to ensure sufficient revenue to continue delivering basic services,” he said.
The people against tariff hikes demanded an end to electricity for profit. Municipalities that receive bulk electricity should not make profits from reselling electricity to residents. They criticised municipalities for using the poor to pay for local government austerity.