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Family receive gift of electricity

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By ANNA COX

Johannesburg - A moth fluttering around lights at night and loud music playing from a teenager’s room can be an irritation for many people.

But for a Rosettenville family*, who have lived without electricity for 13 years after a dispute with the City of Joburg, the things many people take for granted are a “miracle and a delight”.

Their power was reconnected days before Christmas, making it the most awesome festive season the family had had in years.

Thanks to the intervention of The Star, Schindler Attorneys, which took the case on, and a generous reader, who paid off the R11 000 arrears, the family spent their first Christmas at home with festive lights burning bright.

The family’s electricity plight started in 1997 when they got a huge bill of R8 000, which the family claim was incorrect.

Despite numerous visits, phone calls, letters and repeated meetings, nothing had been done to resolve the problem, so the family stopped paying the bill.

In 2002, council officials cut off the power supply.

Family spokesman Earl Harper said he had tried to sort out the problem on behalf of the family for years, but to no avail.

He had applied for a prepaid meter, but the council would not install one until the arrears on the electricity account was settled. Eventually, an attorney agreed to help them and reached a settlement with the city. The council would write off the R11 000 disputed arrears and the family would pay off the remaining R9 000 in instalments of R390 a month.

The family paid instalments for three months, but the council still failed to reconnect the power.

After that the family had to run generators for four hours a day to keep the fridge cold and to use appliances, with the noise “driving everyone mad”.

The family forgot what it was like to have running hot water. The father was forced to boil water every morning.

Last year, after Harper heard about a group of property owners who had taken the City of Joburg to court over illegal disconnections, he approached them for help.

Schindler Attorneys agreed to help him on a pro bono basis, winning the case in November.

Attorney Mandy Capela, who took on the case, said the council had issued a summons for the outstanding amount several years ago, and had entered into a settlement agreement with the family, but the court agreement did not specifically state that the council would reconnect the electricity.

In November, the council argued that because there was no express provision that it should restore electricity to the property, it was not obliged to do so.

Acting Judge Sita Kolbe did not accept this argument, ruling instead that restoring the electricity should have been a natural consequence of entering into the agreement.

The judge left it to the discretion of the council as to how it would restore the electricity.

After a reader saw the article in The Star, she donated the outstanding amount on the account.

A prepaid meter was installed a few days before Christmas.

The reader, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she had received a year-end bonus and wanted to help.

The mother of the family said no words could express their gratitude to The Star, Harper and “our benefactor for an awesome Christmas with our loved ones and friends”.

She said she burst into tears every time she thought about the day the prepaid meter was installed.

* The family don’t want to be named for fear of embarrassing their 17-year-old son.

The Star

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