Cutting a forlorn figure behind the shop counter against the backdrop of almost empty shelves, Mokgasi Mofokeng’s woebegone countenance and a R100 000 Eskom bill in front of him sum up his story of misery.
“They have disconnected my electricity … how am I then expected to make money and pay [Eskom]? Our businesses started suffering when the Maponya Mall opened in our back yard and now Eskom is here to inflict more pain … This is actually killing us because they are not willing to negotiate and look into other options such as prepaid meters to keep us going,” a dejected Mofokeng said.
The 83-year-old is one of 10 store owners at Klipspruit in Soweto, who have been cut off.
Self-employed all his life, he has been running the family grocery store for the past 48 years.
He showed City Press a statement dated January 2015 which reflected that he owed Eskom R100 997 then.
We previously put together R10 000 and pleaded with Eskom to reconnect us but they are demanding a combined sum of R50 000 as a fine because power was reconnected [illegally] after they cut it off
He claimed this was the last statement he received.
The power utility has in recent months started cutting off power in Soweto amid reports that the expansive township owed the utility about R18 billion.
Businesses have not been spared the pain of the power cuts.
Three shops from his, the sound of a generator can be heard emanating from the back of a bottle store, signalling that some business is going on.
The tenant, Selogiloe Sekwenyane, said he had been operating the business for a month when Eskom disconnected the shops’ electricity last November.
He said a letter of demand he saw reflected that the shop owed around R300 000.
Just like Mofokeng, 37-year-old Sekwenyane’s business is suffering.
“I can’t operate at full capacity because this generator limits me to only two fridges. Customers would not really come to a store knowing they might not get what they want.
“I am also losing out on various benefits, from brand marketing companies, which would grow my business, because of this electricity problem,” Sekwenyane said.
“We previously put together R10 000 and pleaded with Eskom to reconnect us but they are demanding a combined sum of R50 000 as a fine because power was reconnected [illegally] after they cut it off. It is impossible to put that amount [of money] together … I mean, most of the shops have shut down as they cannot operate without power.”
I am totally stuck, thanks to Eskom
Mofokeng said they had presented Eskom with a proposal – to allow them to make monthly payments – and have prepaid meters installed for them.
“They refused that win-win option where they would be getting something [of the debt] paid to them at the end of the month, while we buy prepaid electricity and our businesses run. I am old and could die anytime but this is not how I wanted to leave things [for my family] – an empty shop that cannot really be operational,” he said.
Mofokeng sells gas and vetkoek to make a bit of money but for almost 45 minutes, when the City Press team was in his shop, not a single customer walked in.
“I am totally stuck, thanks to Eskom. I used to sell cold drinks from three fridges, airtime and prepaid vouchers but now I cannot do any of that without electricity, which renders this shop useless,” he said.
“We were paying [our bills] well until Eskom outsourced meter reading services and suddenly our statements were problematic. We were overcharged and we decided to stop paying. I support the public outcry [over high electricity bills],” Mofokeng said.
“Eskom must play a fair game and allow people to pay for what they use and not a cent more. Then there will be peace.”