Court orders municipality to reconnect man’s electricity after ‘disconnection spree’in Cradock

Tuesday, February 13, 2024
 – The Eastern Cape Division of the High Court has ordered the Inxuba Yethemba Local Municipality to reconnect the electricity of a Cradock businessman at his house and businesses.

Ben Schenk is among hundreds of householders who were included in the Inxuba Yethemba Local Municipality’s electricity disconnection “spree” that started last week but Schenk said his rates accounts were paid and up to date.

“When my wife went to enquire about the reason for them blocking our prepaid meter, they created a new rates and taxes account. It wasn’t even printed as an account; it was just numbers printed on blank paper,” he said.

“The account shows nothing is owed and then suddenly the total shows me I owe more than R100,000.”

Schenk, on the other hand, said he was owed more than R100,000 for work he had done for the municipality.

On Friday, 9 February, he went to court. Two of his tenants are funeral parlours that were in a race against time to keep the bodies in their care “unaffected” by the disconnection spree. The Eastern Division of the High Court in Makhanda ordered the immediate reconnection of Schenk’s properties.

Judge Thandi Norman ordered the Inxuba Yethemba Local Municipality to act “in accordance with [its] debt collection by-law”, and reconnect the electricity at some of Schenk’s properties and unblock his prepaid meters at others.

She also ordered the municipality to start sending out monthly invoices to Schenk. It was a provisional order, but parts of it came into immediate effect. The municipality will have an opportunity to oppose it.

By Monday, 12 February, the municipality had not complied with the urgent parts of the order that were supposed to be carried out with immediate effect.

“They said I must pay and then they will pay me back, but I know I will never get my money back,” Schenk said.

“We are going back to Makhanda now,” Schenk said on Monday. “We want them to be held in contempt of court.”

The Sheriff had served the order on the municipality and the municipal manager, and, according to legal documentation, said that “they will discuss [the matter] with their attorneys immediately”. 

Schenk’s legal team was then told that the staff that must unblock his electricity were in East London “talking to the municipal attorneys” about the court order.

Just before 9pm on Monday, protesters, still angry about the continuous electricity problems in Cradock and Middelburg, had closed the N10, a major road in the Eastern Cape, with rocks and tyres. Witnesses on the scene said they were protesting over the ongoing blocking of their prepaid electricity meters.

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