Newcastle could be plunged into darkness. About 100 000 residents could face an electricity blackout after Eskom threatened the Newcastle Municipality last week with power cuts as the parastatal was owed in excess of R2 billion. The news caused widespread panic and a social media frenzy.

Subsequently, an urgent meeting between the Newcastle Municipality, the Cooperative Givernance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) and Eskom took place on Monday to address the intended power cuts.

Industry will be hardest hit in an already ailing economy as the power cuts are believed to “indefinite”.

According to a notice from Eskom, industrial, commercial and residential areas that receive electricity from the municipality will be disconnected from 6am until 12pm, and again from 3pm until 8.30pm, every weekday from 30 September till 6 October 6. As from 7 October, electricity will be disconnected from 6am until 8pm on weekdays, until the municipality has paid all its outstanding debt.

According to Eskom, in terms of the provisions of the Electricity Regulation Act of 2006 and the supply agreement with the Newcastle Municipality, the entity is entitled to disconnect the supply of electricity of defaulting municipalities of which Newcastle is one of them.

Responding to an enquiry from the Newcastle Express on how these intended power cuts would affect the town’s economy, Eskom said the entity together with the municipality were committed to doing everything in their means to resolve the issue.

Asked about consumers with a good payment record who would be subjected unfairly to the power cuts, Eskom said that it had a “legal and contractual” relationship with its own customer, the Newcastle Municipality. “Any person or business that takes supply from a municipality is therefore not an Eskom customer.  As such, all queries from consumers must be addressed to the municipality,” said Eskom.

Despite the municipality entering into agreements with Eskom over the last two years, it has failed to honour payment arrangements.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance said in a statement that is has called on Cogta to “urgently place” the Newcastle municipality under administration.

The party’s KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson on Cogta, Mbali Ntuli, said that during the recent KZN budget debates, the DA raised the issue of provincial municipalities owing monies to Eskom. “We also warned of the looming disaster if this was not dealt with,” she said.

Ntuli said that at the time Hlomuka responded saying that they were conducting “revenue enhancement campaigns” in selected municipalities and that they were successful.

“Clearly this is not the case for Newcastle. The DA is once again calling on the MEC to use his powers of intervention and put this municipality under administration so that the issues of governance and leadership can be urgently addressed,” said Ntuli.

Other areas under threat of power cuts, according to the DA, includes Mpofana (Mooi River), Mthonjaneni (Melmoth), Ulundi, Inkosi Langalibalele Municipality (Estcourt), and Abaqulusi.

The DA said that it will this week meet with various business and community leaders to discuss the problem.