Debt owed to South African towns and cities jumped to more than R300 billion in the final quarter of last year, adding to the financial woes of municipalities that are struggling to meet revenue targets amid persistent power cuts.
Consumers owed municipalities R305.8 billion by 31 December, compared with R261.5 billion a year earlier, with households accounting for 71% of the total, data published by the National Treasury on Monday show.
About 84% of the arrears have been outstanding for more than 90 days and may therefore not be realistically collectable.
South African city councils struggle to collect payments for services from consumers and, in turn, battle to pay suppliers, including state power utility Eskom, which has threatened to cut off their electricity supply.
Municipal revenue has also been hit by Eskom’s inability to meet demand for energy, a situation that’s set to worsen as increasing numbers of consumers who can afford to go off the grid.
Finance minister Enoch Godongwana last month announced tax rebates for individuals who install new solar panels at private residences and expanded incentives for businesses.
A strong takeup could remove most paying customers from the municipal electricity distribution network, Business Day newspaper reported, citing South African Local Government Association Chairman Lesetja Dikgale.
Revenue earned by the country’s eight largest municipalities from energy sales fell 6.5% in the quarter through 31 December from a year earlier, and for the 19 secondary cities, it slumped 17.4%, Treasury data show.