Mediclinic fights to keep Eskom power in defaulting towns

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Advocate Deon Irish SC has told the Pretoria High Court there is “no reason known to man or beast” why essential services cannot be isolated from municipal electricity grids and supplied directly by Eskom.

Moneyweb reports that acting for Mediclinic Brits, Irish said his client had nothing to do with the dispute between Eskom and the local Madibeng municipality about Madibeng’s failure to pay its Eskom bills, but the risk to Mediclinic’s patients if Eskom disconnects the whole of Madibeng including the hospital, outweighs the importance of Eskom’s debt collection.

The report says Mediclinic’s application is being heard together with several others, all aimed at having Eskom’s decisions to disconnect electricity supply to the Madibeng and Lekwa municipalities reviewed and set aside. Madibeng is based in Brits in the North West and Lekwa in Standerton in Mpumalanga.

In February Eskom agreed to refrain from cutting the supply until the review applications have been finalised.

Irish said in court that if Eskom wanted to disconnect Madibeng, it first had to make provision for continued supply to Mediclinic’s hospital. He argued that electricity supply to essential services like the hospital should be excluded from the disconnection. The report says he denied being alarmist as Eskom alleges, saying the things Mediclinic fears might happen if the electricity supply is disconnected might not realise, “but who takes that risk?”

Eskom’s suggestion that Mediclinic should rely on generators is not realistic, Irish said. The hospital’s two generators are designed as back-up, not to run the hospital on as primary supply option for the five hours per day Eskom would disconnect Madibeng.

He said while Eskom is not responsible for the provision of water, electricity is a prerequisite for the provision of water in urban areas as it powers the relevant pumps. Mediclinic uses 4,000 litres per hour and has a tank with a capacity of 17,000 litres. If the electricity supply is disconnected for five hours per day, the tanks never fill up completely and the levels will drop gradually. Water supply is crucial for hygiene, infection control and food production in the hospital, he said.

Eskom cannot embark on an action of cutting electricity supply if it cannot guarantee that Mediclinic and its patients’ constitutional right to water won’t be infringed, he said. He said if Eskom’s distribution license in Madibeng restricts it from providing electricity supply directly to Mediclinic and other essential services, the license could be amended.

According to the report, he pointed out that Eskom supplies about 400,000 other small and large businesses directly even though such businesses are also within the boundaries of municipalities that distribute electricity.

Irish further pointed out that Eskom’s agreement with the Brits Transitional Council, which is the legal predecessor of Madibeng, provides that Madibeng should provide the infrastructure for Eskom to supply the municipality and other Eskom clients with electricity. He said the agreement could be extended to the provision of the necessary infrastructure to isolate essential services like the hospital from the rest of the municipal grid, in order to spare such services if Madibeng is disconnected.

The hearing continues, the report says.

Moneyweb report

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