Making a living in the Town Centre CBD has become even more difficult for traders who say they have been hard hit by the new electricity tariffs which are “ridiculous and unaffordable”.
Situated in the kiosks at the market, traders spend up to R200 day for as few as 34.4 units of electricity. Now the more than 30 traders who have been affected are demanding answers from the City of Cape Town.
The City, however, says it is recouping the cost of electricity the traders had used but not paid for.
Trader Kulsum Baker said they had to use electricity sparingly and monitor their consumption carefully.
“It is already challenging working in the Town Centre since we moved from the lanes to the market. (There is) less business because people do not come on this side.
“Then there is the crime aspect, with robberies and the sale of drugs that keep people away. So we lose out there too. Now it is the electricity issue. How are we supposed to survive?” she said.
Ms Baker said that a few years ago contractors had installed the electrical meters during the revamp of the Town Centre but when traders returned to their kiosks, they were unsealed.
“When we moved in seven years ago, there was electricity, but there were no boxes (meters). The City then renovated and installed the boxes. “When we moved back, the boxes were in, but left open. When we asked the guys who installed it, they said we must leave it, they will override it,” she said.
Ms Baker said that about four months ago, after an inspector came around, they noticed they were getting fewer units for the same amount of money.
“We are on a high consumption tariff like Shoprite and the other big stores. The units are not fixed. One day you will get 10 units more, the next day you will get 10 units less. Also the amount differs from trader to trader. One person may get less or more units (than the other),” she said.
Nadeema de Toit said she paid R100 for 25.30 units on July 4, on July 22 she paid R200 and got 52.20 units and then on July 26 she paid R100 electricity and got only 20.60 units.
“On the slip it says debt recovery, (because) we supposedly tampered with (the meters). We have not tampered with anything, since the contractor installed the boxes. Why are we been looked at if it was the City’s fault in the very beginning?” she said.
Angry trader Allie Cassiem said he had paid R200 electricity for 34.3 units on the August 4, and for R50 he got just 3.5 units on August 18. However, later that same day, he got 3.9 units for R10.
“This is just ridiculous. I purposely went to buy to sets of electricity on the same day to see what is happening and look at the digits – it’s just outrageous,” he said.
Shireen Rowland Hendricks received a letter from the City indicating that she owed them
R33 585.78. “The City, in the letter, said I tampered with the box, which I didn’t. I was furious when I heard the news. We have to spend more than R100 every day to keep our business going and pay rent too. Something needs to be done,” she said.
When the Plainsman visited the traders in the kiosks, we found other traders whose boxes were unsealed and who were using free electricity.
“Perfect example, this happened to us and then we were hit with these bills. Their boxes are open, and they have free (electricity). But we have tampered with the boxes according to the City,” said Ms Baker.
Eddie Andrews, mayoral committee member for area south, said the current rates were being applied after a site inspection revealed a number of unmetered installations and instances where the meter had been tampered with.
“These customers are now being charged for the electricity which was used but not paid for,” he said. “Furthermore, it was found that a number of traders were being mistakenly charged according to the Lifeline tariff, which does not apply to commercial customers. As such they were moved onto the Small Power User 2 tariff,” he said.
This tariff, he added, was “tailored for small businesses” and was suitable for users with consumption under 1 000 units a month.
Mr Andrews said the City was recouping the value of the units used but not yet paid for via pre-paid purchases. He said illegal connections had been removed and that the City was reclaiming the cost of units used but not paid for.
Regarding Ms Hendricks’ R33 585.78 bill, Mr Andrews said it was the value of electricity which had been used but not paid for. “This amount will be reclaimed via a percentage of each pre-paid purchase,” he said.
Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy, said the Revenue Protection Unit had investigated and found that the meters had been bypassed.
“It could not be determined whether it was a contractor who acted illegally in doing so, or whether this was done by the occupants of the units themselves. As such no fine for tampering was issued. Affected customers must, however, pay for the electricity they have used but not paid for,” she said.
Ms Limberg added that it was possible that the contractors had been employed by another department involved in the construction of the facility. However it was not possible to confirm this in time for the deadline.
But, she said: “Whether or not this company was employed by the City, bypassing a meter is an illegal act, and customers are still liable for the electricity used, but not paid for.”