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S. Africa to Cut Services in Defiant Areas

From Associated Press

The government announced today that it will stop paying for electricity and other essential services in black and mixed-race townships hit by rent boycotts.

Planning and Provincial Affairs Minister Hernus Kriel said services would be “phased out” in townships in which people failed to pay for them because of rent boycotts protesting conditions in the segregated settlements.

“We do not intend to cut off electricity in sensitive areas where essential services will be affected, like hospitals,” he told reporters in Pretoria.

“We also do not want to jeopardize the health of the community by cutting off the water totally, but we will reduce the flow of water or install services where members of the community can only use water at certain times of day.”

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The announcement came as police confronted protesting residents of the mixed-race Ennerdale township, firing tear gas to disperse the crowd. Later, more than 500 people marched through the township to protest what they said were incorrect utility bills.

Also today, the independent South African Press Assn. reported that negotiators were finishing a draft agreement to end a 5-year-old rent boycott in Soweto, the black township of 2 million people near Johannesburg.

The boycotts started about five years ago as a protest against high rents and poor conditions. Since then, local township governments have been unable to pay electricity, water and sewage bills to power companies and others.

The government has helped make up the difference, but Kriel said today that it would stop that practice.

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“Suppliers of such services will have no choice but to discontinue their services to certain communities, especially those with a poor record of payment,” Kriel said.

“The government simply does not have the funds to continue to provide bridging finance, and the onus to pay for these services rests with the consumers themselves,” he said.

On Tuesday, electricity, water and sewage services were cut in the Silobela township in the Orange Free State in central South Africa. Township residents complained that they never had taken part in a rent boycott.

Security forces patrolled the township Wednesday and today. Perishable food was rotting, and residents collected water from a nearby stream.

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