ESKOM threatens FS with economic terrorism

Roy Jankielsohn, MPL

Leader of the Official Opposition in the Free State Provincial Legislature

ESKOM has repeatedly threatened to suspend electricity supply to the Ngwathe, Dihlabeng and Maluti-a-Phofung municipalities for a collective debt exceeding R450 million unless payments are made.

While we agree with ESKOM that these municipalities must pay their dues, and the DA is on record that it has called on COGTA MEC Mlamleli to intervene and negotiate a settlement to avoid a crisis, we can’t allow ESKOM to threaten the people of the Free State with the suspension of electricity supply due to the incompetence and inability of municipalities to manage their affairs appropriately.

Should ESKOM continue with the suspension of electricity to those residents who have paid their dues to the municipality, it would be in breach of the Electricity Regulations Act (No 4 of 2006) Section 22 (5) which reads:

(5) A licensee may not reduce or terminate the supply of electricity to a customer, unless –

(a) the customer is insolvent;

(b) the customer has failed to honour, or refuses to enter into, an agreement for the supply of electricity; or

(c) the customer has contravened the payment conditions of that licensee.

The suspension of electricity to large swathes of the Free State would have a catastrophic impact on people’s lives. Should ESKOM proceed all service delivery, essential services and commerce would come to a complete halt. Suspending electricity supply could result in the loss of life, the deterioration of public order, looting, and public violence. This could be construed as economic terrorism according an interpretation of the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act (No 33 of 2004) Chapter 1, the definition of a ‘terrorist activity’ includes:

a)   any act committed in or outside the Republic, which –

(vi) is designed or calculated to cause serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system, or the delivery of any such service, facility or system, whether public or private, including, but not limited to-

aa) a system used for, or by, an electronic system, including an information system;

bb) a telecommunication service or system;

cc) a banking or financial service or financial system;

dd) a system used for the delivery of essential government services;

ee) a system used for, or by, an essential public utility or transport provider;

ff) an essential infrastructure facility; or

gg) any essential emergency services, such as police, medical or civil defence services;

vii) causes any major economic loss or extensive destabilisation of an economic system or substantial devastation of the national economy of a country; or

viii) creates a serious public emergency situation or a general insurrection in the Republic,

whether the harm contemplated in paragraphs (a)(i) to (vii) is or may be suffered in or outside the Republic, and whether the activity referred to in subparagraphs (ii) to (viii) was committed by way of any means or method;

In terms of the above definition the threats made by ESKOM could be construed as terrorism. Our communities are already under stress due to poor service delivery by local municipalities and a mere threat to suspend electricity supply places an additional economic and social burden on them.

Service delivery institutions must stop terrorising our communities with threats and intimidation.