Pre-Paid Electricity Meters or Power to the People?

by Pitso Mompe
(Tokologo African Anarchist Collective)

eskom-candleIn 2000 the South African government announced its policy was to provide “free basic services.” The free basic electricity  policy was released in 2003 and claimed that it would ensure that a “basic supply” of electricity is made available free of charge to poor households.

In practice, the amount provided in the “basic supply” is very limited, and soon runs out.

The policy further states that poor households generally have a lower demand for electricity, and so their needs can be adequately met by restricting the current drawn from their supply to about 20 Amperes. So, the free electricity also cannot support most appliances.

Further, the same policy states that indigent homes applying for free basic electricity have to be fitted with pre-paid meters first.

The irony is that people have to buy a voucher to activate the free basic allowance. How can electricity be “free” if you have to buy it?

The imposition of a pre paid meter system continues inequality in access to energy. Poor people are often unable to afford the vouchers and as a result, their homes are left unlit. In addition, the unit cost of electricity is higher for those using a pre-paid meter in working class areas. When the free power runs out, households buy more power. The higher rates then pay back the state and ESKOM for the “free” power.

Free electricity is better than no electricity, and the state would not have even considered it without the mass protests around electricity from the late 1990s.

But there are serious problems in the policy. However this will not be addressed by the ruling class as it does not increase profit and control.

And let us remember that ESKOM is nationalized: it is state-owned. Evidently nationalisation does not benefit the working class, as certain politicians say. It is not an alternative to privatisation. These are both anti-working class, and obstacles to genuine freedom. We must fight for collectivisation, including placing ESKOM under democratic working class control, including self-management.