Eskom has instituted scheduled power cuts in five municipalities that have not settled their electricity debt and declared that it cannot favour compassion over its balance sheet.

Eskom has been threatening to take action against defaulting municipalities since April 2015 for spiralling municipal electricity debts totalling R10-billion and on Monday carried out its threat.

“Eskom is not the Vatican, meaning even though we are expected to be compassionate, which we are from time to time, you cannot expect Eskom to just write off the debt or continuously give grace periods,” said Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe.

Last week Eskom successfully defended its decision to cut power to municipalities in the high court in Pretoria after a bid to stop the move by civil rights group AfriForum.

AfriForum and its economic wing AfriBusiness approached the court to stop the disconnections of electricity in the Northern Cape, Free State and the North West.

In a statement, AfriForum said Judge Hans Fabricius found that municipalities ought to be held accountable and said ratepayers who have paid their electricity bills should query the power cuts with their councils and not Eskom.

AfriForum said the electricity cuts will further impoverish the unstable economy of rural towns.

It argued that Eskom has “other legal measures at its disposal to recover its fees” and that “to punish paying and law abiding citizens and institutions for the negligence of incompetent municipal administrations does not make sense”.

Stefan Pieterse, spokesperson for AfriBusiness, said small-town economies would bear the brunt of the electricity cuts.