This week’s deadly protests in Tembisa have further strained relations between the DA-led multiparty coalition and the ANC, which was relegated to the opposition benches after the November 2021 local government elections.
Disgruntled residents took to the streets on Monday to embark on what was meant to be a peaceful protest but which was allegedly hijacked by opportunists for their own gains. Four people died and there was extensive damage to municipal property.
On Wednesday, officials including the executive mayor, Tania Campbell, visited the area to engage with the community and assess the extent of the damage.
At the end of the 2021/22 financial year, residents were alerted to the council’s decision in line with a National Treasury directive to cut free basic electricity from 100kWH to 50kWh per household per month, which took effect on 1 July.
The new provision, however, only applies to what the City said were “indigent” households: those in desperate need or that do not have an income of more than R7,000 per month.
“The problem is that people were getting this relief and once you take a decision that you are taking it to 50 kilowatts and you are only giving it to those who are registered as indigent, in essence, you are disadvantaging people who were getting this service as a relief,” said the ANC’s chief whip in the Ekurhuleni council, Jongizizwe Dlabathi.
“If you want to adjust downwards, the least that you could have done was to preserve the relief, take it to kilowatts but give it to all the households in Ekurhuleni and probably in six months call upon the households to come to the customer centre and apply for the indigent relief.”
Dlabathi said the protests were inevitable after the multiparty coalition’s decision to withdraw the provision of free electricity at a time when many residents were unemployed and lingering in poverty.
He accused the coalition of approving anti-poor policies, including approving increases on core services above the Consumer Price Index.
“The tariffs that they have imposed are actually insensitive, unjust and unreasonable.”
The multiparty coalition has, in turn, accused the ANC of indulging in petty politics.
ActionSA’s chief whip in the council, Michael Basch, said the view that protests had erupted because of the City’s decision and anti-poor policies was a misrepresentation of the facts.
He said National Treasury and the Office of the Auditor-General had flagged the provision of free electricity as irregular and ordered it to be scrapped as the government could not afford it.
“But the ANC obviously stalled and stalled until the Auditor-General came back to say it really needs to be put in line with the national policy.” As a result of this directive, the multiparty government was left with no choice but to take an unpopular decision.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “More than 100 metro police officers deployed to Tembisa after deadly riots”
“Trust me, the decision was not taken lightly. We had many meetings, back and forth, and a lot of thought was applied to the decision.”
Basch said the ANC were “unhappy they are not in charge at this point in time [and are] trying to bring down the coalition to prove that they would have been better”.
Residents, however, take a different view.
“We have never been informed of this,” said one resident, Kutlwano Makofane. “When we enquired with the municipality, we were told to apply for something we used to get for free, and that doesn’t make sense.”
Makofane said that some areas in Tembisa had been without electricity for months and their complaints about service delivery had fallen on deaf ears.
“It’s a pity that people had to lose their lives, but really it shows that people are angry and if our concerns are not addressed then it will be like this for a long time.”
Another resident accused the City of inflating electricity prices and said this was part of the reason they had taken to the streets.
“We are tired… there was a time when I used to pay R300 for electricity that would last me a month, but lately it only takes a week. It is uncalled for. The worst part is that even when we try to pay for the electricity we still get load-shed, suffering even more.”
Basch said the City of Ekurhuleni would save nearly R900-million a year as a result of the revised free basic electricity scheme, and the money saved was being redirected to service delivery initiatives.
EFF regional chairperson Nkululeko Dunga slammed the ANC for the mess it left the city in as a result of the free provision of electricity.
“The City does not have cash in hand… so if we miss our daily targets in terms of revenue collection, we will find ourselves in a position that we can’t even pay employees. That is because of the financial mismanagement that occurred in the past administration of the ANC,” he said.
Dunga maintained that though the community was unhappy with the withdrawal of the free electricity, the City had always given above the national standard in terms of free water and free electricity and this was unsustainable.
He said the EFF was initially not pleased with the budget the City approved, but eventually accepted it on the basis of an agreement that it would not increase rates and taxes.
“But it was inevitable that there would be an increase in water and electricity and this is because Eskom imposed an increase,” he said.
“The City had no option but to carry out that increase to its consumers.”
Gauteng’s MEC for human settlements, urban planning and cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Lebogang Maile, visited Tembisa on Wednesday and pledged his support for the community.
Maile said he was happy with the progress made during discussions with community leaders. He said there would be another meeting on Friday, which would outline measures to be taken to tackle the issues raised during the protests.
‘Nothing to do with it’
Two days before the protests flared up, pictures of members of the ANC’s Radical Economic Transformation faction, including Ace Magashule, and members of KZN’s “Taliban” group surfaced on social media, with some people suggesting they had incited the violence.
Dlabathi, however, poured cold water on the speculation, saying none of the ANC leaders had set foot in Tembisa before the protests, as they had been attending the party’s National Policy Conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg.
“The problem is that we are allowing a situation where the DA wants to run away from the real issues of what led to the protests. We had nothing to do with these protests, we spent most, if not all, our time at the policy conference.”
Addressing residents earlier, Ekurhuleni mayor Tania Campbell said the City would investigate allegations that criminal elements had prevailed during the riots. On the electricity concerns, Campbell said the City had a mechanism in place to curb the soaring prices and there would be a report-back on Friday.
Gauteng metropolitan municipalities have embarked on measures to intensify revenue-generation initiatives.
In February, the City of Tshwane introduced the #TshwaneYaTima (Tshwane switches off) initiative in a bid to recoup close to R17-billion it was owed by government institutions and businesses which had their services cut. DM