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
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.
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.