Antoinette Slabbert
3 minute read
4 May 2017
7:31 am

Mediclinic argues for continued power supply for essential services

Antoinette Slabbert

The risk to Mediclinic’s patients if Eskom disconnected the whole of Madibeng, including the hospital, outweighed the importance of Eskom’s debt collection, court hears.

Advocate Deon Irish told the High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday there was ‘‘no reason’’ why essential services cannot be isolated from municipal electricity grids and supplied directly by Eskom.

Acting for Mediclinic Brits, Irish said his client had nothing to do with the dispute between Eskom and the local Madibeng municipality over Madibeng’s failure to pay its Eskom bills, but the risk to Mediclinic’s patients if Eskom disconnected the whole of Madibeng, including the hospital, outweighed the importance of Eskom’s debt collection.

Mediclinic’s application is being heard together with several others, all aimed at having Eskom’s decision to disconnect the 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.

Apart from Mediclinic, the applicants include tyre manufacturer Bridgestone and six other large users who, together, represent 60% of Madibeng’s electricity revenue.

In court papers, they state that 2 400 jobs could be at stake if their electricity supply is interrupted.

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

Poultry producer Astral Foods and animal food producers Meadow Feeds then reached an agreement with Eskom and Lekwa with regard to the disconnection of electricity supply to Lekwa, as did Standerton Oil Mills and its holding company, Cofco SA.

It was agreed that the companies would make their monthly electricity payments into the trust account of Lekwa’s attorney, who would pay it over to Eskom without any deductions. The companies would continue to do so until the review application has been finalised.

On Tuesday, Irish said 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.

He denied being alarmist, as Eskom alleges, saying that what Mediclinic feared might happen if the electricity supply was disconnected might not be realised, ‘‘but who takes that risk?’’ Eskom’s suggestion that Mediclinic should rely on generators was not realistic, Irish said.

The hospital’s two generators were designed as back-up, not to run the hospital as a primary supply option for the five hours per day Eskom planned to disconnect Madibeng.

He said although Eskom was not responsible for the provision of water, electricity was a prerequisite for the provision of water in urban areas as it powered the relevant pumps.

Mediclinic used 4 000 litres per hour and had a tank with a capacity of 17 000l. If the electricity supply was disconnected for five hours per day, the tanks would never fill up completely and the levels would drop gradually.

Water was crucial for hygiene, infection control and food production in the hospital, he added. Eskom could not cut electricity supply if it could not guarantee that Mediclinic and its patients’ constitutional right to water won’t be infringed, he said.

He said if Eskom’s distribution licence in Madibeng restricts it from providing electricity supply directly to Mediclinic and other essential services, the licence could be amended.

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 also 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 was disconnected.

The hearing continued yesterday.

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