Reading the papers for an upcoming case made me fear that rampant municipal debt could be one of the most urgent, yet most neglected, problems for government. It is a test case, brought by the Harrismith Business Forum against Eskom and various arms of government, about who should intervene to sort out the debt owed to Eskom by municipalities, and how government should fix intergovernmental failures to protect the rights of citizens to basic amenities. By end-February, the combined arrears of the Free State, Mpumalanga and North West stood at R11.5bn, while the 20 most-indebted municipalities owed Eskom more than R16bn. SA’s worst-paying municipality, Maluti-a-Phofung (Harrismith), owes almost R3bn. Now Eskom has set the date for serious action against it: first a power outage for six and a half hours on weekdays and longer over the weekend; then, in week two, no power for 14 hours daily. What will this achieve? Eskom says it aims to put a brake on rapidly increasing debt. But it ap...

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