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It’s been a tough four days for residents in Parys and Vredefort who have been without electricity and endured knock-on water outages while the municipality tried to find the cash it promised to pay power utility Eskom.
The municipality is one of Eskom’s worst debtors, which is why it wanted payment upfront.
Businesses, private homes and residents in retirement centres have all been affected, and the community has stepped in to help the vulnerable.
Clarissa Passeno, a manager at Sally Martin Park Methodist home for the aged in Parys said the past few days had been difficult. The home houses 250 residents, with some of them in frail care.
“It’s been extremely hard, but the love and support from the community is keeping us going. Though we have backup power, as soon as we started having water problems we were worried. But our community came through and immediately offered to bring us water from their boreholes,” she said.
The home is running up a big bill for backup power. From Friday to Monday afternoon they spent about R15,000 on fuel to keep their generators running.
“We can’t keep the elderly in the dark so we had to do what we had to do to make them comfortable,” she said.
Despite the challenges, Passeno said they had so far been able to run most of their important services, including the laundry and kitchen.
“This has been a draining time for all of us. You can even see how drained and depressed the staff are here because when they leave here they go home to the same situation in the township is worse for them as they have no backup power,” she said.
Bed and breakfast owner Elize van Hosthuizen said it was difficult to meet the expectations of guests who had already checked in when the outage occurred.
“Some things are not able to run on backup power, like the kettles in the rooms. This left so many of our guests unhappy when they couldn’t make a cup of coffee from their rooms.”
Though she has borehole water and backup power, she felt it unfair that they couldn’t access services they have already paid for from the municipality.
“Why should we suffer when we have paid? I really wish we could do what other towns were able to do by getting a third party to manage the finances of the municipality to ensure that service providers like Eskom are paid on time,” she said.
Another resident from Parys, Piet Voster, said: “At this point I wish we could get our electricity supply from Eskom because this municipality is failing us.
“We are paying for our electricity and are shocked to see the municipality owes Eskom so much money,” he said.
On Monday, the power utility announced it is working on restoring power in Ngwathe local municipality and it should be restored by midnight. This is after it received R1.1m from the municipality.
“The payment will be allocated to repairs required to restore supply to Parys and Vredefort in the Free State after overloading on the Ngwathe electrical network tripped and damaged Eskom’s equipment on Friday, July 1,” Eskom said.
It had been warning the municipality since 2018 that continuously exceeding its notified maximum demand (NMD) — the contracted amount of electricity supplied by Eskom to the municipality — would damage the Eskom network and the municipality had to apply for an upgrade to its NMD.
Eskom said in August 2021 and in April 2022 it informed the municipality that damage to the network caused by the municipality’s negligence would be at the municipality’s cost.
“The municipality agreed to this condition and though they were informed and aware of the risks they did not take the necessary precautions ... Eskom is pleased to confirm that the payment [of R1.1m] was finally received [for] the efforts to upgrade their NMD.
According to Eskom, at the end of June 2022 Ngwathe municipality’s overdue debt totalled R1.89bn.
“This debt continues to grow as current accounts are not paid in full. Ngwathe’s non-adherence to payment conditions and negligence in protecting the power system jeopardises Eskom’s financial sustainability as well as the security of supply to residents of towns such as Parys and Vredefort.”
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.