Swellendam residents march for cheaper electricity

This comes two weeks after the town was brought to a standstill with violent protests

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Swellendam residents marched to the municipality’s office in the town on 30 August. Among the issues they raised were steep electricity tariffs and poor sanitation services. Photos: Ashraf Hendricks

  • Several hundred people marched through the streets of Swellendam on Wednesday complaining about electricity prices.
  • Earlier this month a protest turned violent, with a municipal building torched, and shops looted.
  • The residents’ main demand is for the Swellendam Municipality to reduce the electricity tariffs and for pensioners to be given free units. Another concern was the lack of adequate sanitation and other infrastructure in informal settlements.
  • The mayor has promised to personally meet with community leaders and respond to the residents’ demands.

Several hundred people braved the heat to march to the Swellendam Municipal Office on Wednesday, 30 August. They were protesting against high electricity tariffs as well as a lack of sanitation and infrastructure in informal settlements.

The march follows a protest that turned violent two weeks ago that brought the small town to a standstill and saw a municipal building torched and shops looted.

Protesters sang struggle songs as they made their way through the town to hand over their memorandum of demands to the mayor. Many businesses shut their doors for the morning as a precaution, but the march went off without any incidents.

The memorandum read: “We are a collective of different cultures, workers, and ordinary people in the Swellendam municipal area and stand firmly to express our anger, frustration and disappointment at the lack of resources and solutions offered by the Mayor, DA and FF+ councillors.”

Among their demands is for the municipality to revise its current electricity tariff and indigent policy. They want pensioners to automatically be given rebates which must include free units, and they want fixed charges to be waived for pensioners. They also demanded that electricity be supplied to all areas.

There was a heavy police presence, though the march was orderly and without incident

Resident Riaan Jonas said the Swellendam electricity tariff hikes were the highest in the Western Cape. He said the violent protest earlier this month had been sparked by the increases as well as by the change in policy at the beginning of July. He said indigent households no longer automatically got free units but had to apply.

“That is the unhappiness here,” he said.

The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) granted Eskom a 18.65% tariff hike earlier this year to help it cover its debt. Consumers are now feeling the the hike, as electricity bills have become unaffordable particularly for poor households.

Jonas said the lack of sanitation facilities was another major problem. He said the protesters would give the mayor seven days to respond.

Another protester, Stanley Dleleweni, said: “The mayor had implemented a policy of 2021 that anyone staying in informal settlements must receive free units. They changed that policy without the community and that is why we are here. Some of the other issues are the sanitation and poor infrastructure in the informal settlement. We never see any progress in the informal settlement.”

He complained of dirty tap water and inadequate drainage.

Another issue in the residents’ memorandum was the lack of services in Plakenspark informal settlement. Uncollected rubbish is strewn about and some of the toilets are broken.

Mayor Francois du Rand accepted the memorandum and thanked the community for their orderly action.

“Sorry that you have to stand here in the sun, I think everyone’s hot and thirsty. I accept this memorandum from the community. I will be the designated person engaging with your representatives.

“The indigent policy should be for people who qualify. That is what it’s there for, for the people that cannot pay their municipal bills,” he told the crowd.

Member of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature and ANC provincial spokesperson Muhammad Khalid Sayed told protesters he would take up the issues they had raised in the provincial legislature.

GroundUp visited an informal settlement known as Plakenspark, where some of the protesters live. We saw piles of uncollected rubbish, broken toilets and overflowing sewage.

Swellendam Mayor Francois du Rand accepted the memo and promised to respond to the protesters’ demands.

TOPICS:  Electricity Sanitation

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