‘I can buy food or electricity, not both’
Cape Town -
One Weet-Bix, three teabags and half a cup of rice.
On most days, that’s all that Tafelsig resident Mastoera Collop can afford.
Last week, Collop displayed small R1 plastic packets of salt, rice, coffee and half a bar of soap to show a panel from the National Energy Regulating Authority of SA (Nersa) why the poor could not afford another electricity tariff increase.
On average, she can afford to buy only R15 worth of groceries for the day from the “Rand-a-rama” shops run by a number of Tafelsig residents.
Collop, 48, was speaking at the Cape Town public hearings of Eskom’s application for a 16 percent electricity tariff increase each year until 2018.
This would more than double the price of electricity over the five years.
Eskom says the increase is necessary to finance its operations and new capacity.
“I want to show you what people live with each day,” Collop said.
“One Weet-Bix. If people can’t even afford to buy a box of Weet-Bix or food for the week, how can they afford an electricity increase? If petrol and food increases hit us this hard, then what will electricity do?”
Collop buys R5 worth of electricity a day when she can.
“Many nights we go without electricity because you must decide between that and food, and you can’t eat electricity,” she said.
A R5 supply of electricity gives her 3.5 units, which she says is enough to boil one kettle of water and cook a quick pot of food.
“With all the challenges of unemployment and crime, we still have to worry about electricity. When do I have some warmth in my life? It’s like the rich get richer and the poor must die,” Collop said.
She lost her job at a clothing factory five years ago and has been unable to find another job. Her husband, who was retrenched in 2010, does odd jobs and comes home with between R50 and R60 at a time. There are four children.
Nersa panellists were lost for words after the presentations by Collop and others who described the poverty on the Cape Flats and in the townships.
Panellists acknowledged poverty levels were severe but said Collop’s presentation made that reality clearer.
One panellist later told Collop: “I am so, so sorry. I don’t know if we can help you, but we will try.”
On Friday, residents from Manenberg, Gugulethu and other areas made presentations to Nersa about why they could not afford the present tariffs, let alone an increase of 16 percent.
Manenberg resident and Right2Know activist Rugshana Pascoe told the panel: “We live from hand to mouth.
“I started cooking on a fire and it was degrading for my children.
“What are Eskom chief executive officers earning? It’s painful to know that the poor pay for the rich, and is this gap going to grow? Before 1994, when we decided to take a stand, we did not think we would stand here now and beg for mercy for the poor.”
Lerona Carstens, from the Tafelsig Residents’ Association, pleaded with Nersa not to allow the tariff increase, saying most of the poor were unemployed and struggled to live on government grants.