'Eskom must think about the poor'

A major concern at public hearings into Eskom's proposed price hike was the plight of the poor.

Protesters against Eskom's price hike outside Gallagher Estate in Midrand on 30 January 2013. Picture: Lesego Ngobeni/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Trade unions, private sector organisations, economists and the average man on the street voiced their objections to Eskom's proposed electricity tariff increase at Gallagher Estate in Midrand on Wednesday.

The power regulator wants an increase of 16 percent year-on-year for the next five years.

Speaking for himself and a community on the East Rand, Meshack Mbungula highlighted one of the major concerns raised at the hearings, the plight of the poor.

"We cannot afford the price of electricity now. If there is any increase, what is going to happen to the poorer communities?"

Eskom CEO Brian Dames said he shares their concern.

"We have certainly listened very carefully in these hearings and have dedicated ourselves to finding ways to minimise the impact."

Dames proposed that from next year residential users receive a decrease in tariffs and single digit increases for five years thereafter.

The CEO added the potential impact on consumers was also a worrying factor.

"We must not make short-term decisions that will impact the fundamental growth of the country's long-term aspirations."

Dames ruled out an inflation-linked increase, because Eskom's operational costs are well above that figure.

The power utility was also warned about the effects of the hikes on small business.

'PRICE HIKE IS A FORM OF APARTHEID'

At the hearings, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)'s Dumisani Dakile said the proposed electricity tariff hike is a new form of apartheid.

Dakile believes poor blacks will be denied a basic service because they cannot afford the price increases.

He said one of Nersa's responsibilities was to protect the vulnerable consumer.

Dakile went on to say the regulator must ensure that the poor are not denied access to power.

At the same time, Dames also said he was concerned about the impact the hike would have on the poor.

"Yes, this concerns me. It's very important that all stakeholders sit around the table and see how best to strike a balance."

The CEO added the potential impact on consumers was also a worrying factor.