Elec­tric­ity price hike puts city’s poor at risk

Shack-dwellers face death by fire as they turn to al­ter­na­tive, po­ten­tially un­safe sources of power

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - VUYO MABANDLA

ESKOM’S elec­tric­ity price in­creases have forced many poorer peo­ple to turn to un­safe paraf­fin stoves as they bat­tle to save money.

Res­i­dents in Cape Town town­ships say they have re­sorted to us­ing paraf­fin stoves and fire­wood to cook food and heat their homes.

The Paraf­fin As­so­ci­a­tion has warned that some of the stoves be­ing im­ported from China are un­safe, but are still snapped up by peo­ple looking for an al­ter­na­tive to elec­tric­ity.

How­ever, both the City of Cape Town and Eskom said they had not seen a de­crease in the amount of elec­tric­ity sold. In­stead, both en­ti­ties said, more elec­tric­ity was sold in July than in pre­vi­ous years.

The Na­tional En­ergy Reg­u­la­tor of South Africa (Nersa) ap­proved Eskom’s ap­pli­ca­tion to hike its prices by 31 per­cent, with a 15 per­cent in­crease di­rected at poor house­holds.

But res­i­dents say the in­crease is start­ing to bite.

Luleka Mzembe of Khayelit­sha is buy­ing less elec­tric­ity than ever be­fore. The mother of seven said her fam­ily had “no choice” but to use al­ter­na­tives be­cause of higher elec­tric­ity prices.

“I’d rather use the paraf­fin stove and (paraf­fin heater) be­cause it lasts longer than elec­tric­ity,” the un­em­ployed woman said.

Mzembe, who uses a pre-paid me­ter, said she had cut down on elec­tric­ity con­sump­tion and was us­ing wood as well as paraf­fin

“I have de­cided to use a paraf­fin stove to do my cook­ing and fire­wood to warm up the garage, where we sit dur­ing the day. I buy elec­tric­ity for R250 a month, but it doesn’t even last for three weeks.”

Eskom, how­ever, is adamant the price hike has had no ef­fect on the de­mand for elec­tric­ity.

Eskom spokesman Fani Zulu said there had not been a fluc­tu­a­tion in the con­sump­tion and sale of elec­tric­ity that could be at­trib­uted to the tar­iff in­crease.

“Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have been buy­ing a lot of elec­tric­ity and our re­search has shown a great de­mand for our prod­uct.”

But ex­perts said high costs had driven poor fam­i­lies to­wards us­ing “ex­tremely danger­ous” sources of en­ergy to run their house­holds.

Phumzile Nteyi, of the Paraf­fin Safety As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa, said more peo­ple, es­pe­cially poorer peo­ple, were us­ing less elec­tric­ity as it was “too ex­pen­sive”.

Now they were at risk of be­ing burnt as more and more were us­ing “naked flame ap­pli­ances”, es­pe­cially dur­ing win­ter.

“Chi­nese com­pa­nies are tak­ing ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion by bring­ing in cheap, un­ap­proved ap­pli­ances, which could cause many fires,” he said.

“In South Africa, a large per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion re­lies on us­ing pri­mary sources of en­ergy to do chores re­quir­ing heat, and th­ese of­ten re­sult in tragic oc­cur­rences such as fire or death by smokein­hala­tion. The price in­crease on power has truly hit peo­ple’s pock­ets hard and they feel they have no choice but to turn to the mostly un­safe means to sur­vive,” Nteyi said.

The city said it was aware that the new tar­iff was “hit­ting hard”, but this “shouldn’t be blamed on Eskom”, be­cause peo­ple were cur­rently us­ing a lot of elec­tric­ity.

Charles Cooper, of the city’s elec­tric­ity depart­ment, de­fended the util­ity by sug­gest­ing peo­ple should sim­ply start to mon­i­tor their elec­tric­ity use.

“House­hold own­ers should save on elec­tric­ity and watch how they use their power. Peo­ple will get used to (the in­crease) in no time,” he said.

An­a­lyst Cor­nelis van der Waal said it was “un­fair for peo­ple to start blam­ing Eskom for the prob­lem”.

“We can’t put the blame on Eskom. South Africans have been pay­ing lit­tle for elec­tric­ity in the past. It was due for Eskom to in­crease its tar­iff.

“Any prob­lems oc­cur­ring be­cause of that can­not be the com­pany’s fault.

“Con­sumers should take due care in the way they use elec­tric­ity.”

Hous­ing NGO In­tern Africa said some of the fires that had gut­ted shacks in Cape Town’s im­pov­er­ished com­mu­ni­ties may have been partly due to peo­ple us­ing al­ter­na­tives to elec­tric­ity.

Zulu de­clined to com­ment on the pos­si­bil­ity of Eskom’s role in the mat­ter, say­ing com­plaints by cus­tomers did not nec­es­sar­ily mean the com­pany was the cul­prit.

He said Eskom would con­tinue to teach con­sumers how to save elec­tric­ity.

CHEAPER OP­TION: Than­dux­olo Bhukhwana of Khay­al­it­sha uses a paraf­fin stove to cook a meal.

PIC­TURES: AYANDA NDAMANE

PRICE PROB­LEM: Luleka Mzembe says she uses a paraf­fin stove and fire­wood as elec­tric­ity does not last long and costs too much.

WIRE WOES: Il­le­gal elec­tric­ity con­nec­tions in a Cape Town town­ship.

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