Light at end of tunnel for farmers who ‘come clean’ on Eskom debt
Small farmers are demanding more than just a rebate, though. They want a preferential rate
It was a dream come true for Lumka Mhletywa when her application for a dairy farm in Macleantown, Eastern Cape, was approved by the department of rural development and land reform (DRDLR).
Under the 30-year lease agreement, she repays the mortgage monthly and will, at the end of the term, becomes the owner of the land.
She took over the farm with a number of dairy cattle and ran it for a few months when she encountered her first hurdle: she was unable to pay her Eskom electricity bills. Now there seems to be a light at the end of an otherwise dark tunnel with the power utility’s nationwide #ComeCleanCampaign, which calls for people who owe money to come forward and get a 50% discount.
This includes private residents and business owners.
She is one of the emerging farmers battling to keep the lights on because of the Eskom tariffs. Like others in her dire financial position, she wants Eskom to offer emerging farmers a preferential rate.
Speaking to Times Select, Mhletywa said she had to sell some of her cattle to settle her Eskom account. “I was now selling the cattle to pay the bills, but I stopped paying, as this electricity was too expensive,” she said.
“My farm was a new farm, I had nothing, and I was just unable to keep up. I was scared of losing the farm. Last year in November, I was owing R85,000 and today maybe it’s way over R100,000.”
She said though she was not making a profit, Eskom was billing her the same amount every month. Now her electricity had been cut off.
She’s not alone though. Cwayita Mboni, also a female dairy farmer in Newlands, Eastern Cape, suffered a similar fate. “I had to use my savings to settle Eskom bills. I’ve suffered a lot, and I’ve got nothing today ... I operated at a loss,” said Mboni.
She said Eskom was treating them like commercial farmers. “We need relief; farmers are abandoning their farms. This Eskom plan can assist a number of farmers.”
Walter Nongqo, also an emerging farmer, said he had to take a loan to pay his R4,000 Eskom bill. “We would have loved to have the electricity that is cheap and affordable. I was struggling to get R4,000 to pay Eskom,” he said.
Nongqo said they could not afford to install solar panels as an alternative electricity source.
“We could not get any funding for that. The plan was to run away from Eskom to have our own source of power, which is cheaper.”
The Eskom rebate brings hope though.
“If we can somehow manage to get out of our debt, we can start producing for the country. We are into farming not to feed our stomachs but the country,” said Mhletywa.
Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe said the customer incentive campaign offer had received an overwhelming response when it was launched in Mpumalanga and had therefore been extended to the Free State, Limpopo, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and North West. “Other provinces will follow in the next financial year.
“The repercussions for those who choose not to take advantage of this generous offer will be severe, as Eskom will disconnect illegal power users from the system after the deadline,” said Phasiwe.
The power utility said they would not show mercy to those who did not come clean. “They will not qualify for the discount, and they will be disconnected until such time that the full remedial charge fee has been paid.”
Eskom said the discounted fee offer would expire on March 31. National African Farmers Association’s Pumza Vitshima said the power cuts were hitting farmers heavily, most of the victims being emerging farmers.
She said because of the drought, most farmers relied on boreholes, which needed electricity for the pumps.
“We are calling for government to come assist us in these farms. Emerging inexperienced black farmers were given these farms to run, but the honest mistake DRDLR did was not to speak to Eskom to cut this fixed cost system,” said Vitshima. Eskom previously said electricity theft was a threat to SA’s economic growth and remained one of the most serious but “under-reported crimes in spite of the fact that the country loses at least R20bn a year to electricity theft”.
The main problem was illegal connections, nonpayment, meter tampering, meter bypassing and ghost vending.
• People wishing to make use of the offer must visit their nearest Eskom office with their account, and complete the necessary forms to arrange for a payment plan.