Darg left in dark again

Ryno Engelbrecht.

Staff at the Domestic Animal Rescue Group (DARG) were left stunned last week after power to the sanctuary was disconnected by the City of Cape Town, which claimed that the electricity account was heavily in arrears – a claim that has been disputed.

This was the second time in as many years that the City has taken such action. In July 2016, it cut the water supply, leaving more than 280 animals vulnerable.

After the power was cut on Wednesday June 6, Darg, as supporting applicants ,successfully brought an application in the Cape Town High Court for an order that the City of Cape Town reconnect the electricity. The applicants were trustees of the Gio Sanctuary for Animals Trust who own the land from which Darg conducts its activities.

Darg facilitator, Ryno Engelbrecht, is appalled at the disconnection of electricity, saying the City “doesn’t care” about the rescue animals. “Without electricity, our vaccinations, which have to be at a certain temperature, were spoilt. It also affected our hospital care wing. We have heaters on the wall in the kennels so the animals don’t get cold.”

He added: “Worst of all, our borehole couldn’t function so we had to use municipal water to clean the kennels. Of course that meant incurring further costs on our water bill,” he said.

“Furthermore, our alarms couldn’t work, so we had to employ additional guards overnight for security purposes.”

He said Darg rendered a vital service to the community, which meant that it was also providing a much-needed service to the City.

“After last year’s fire, we took in 109 animals and also assisted members of the affected community of Imizamo Yethu. Yet this is how we are treated.”

He said no notification of the impending power cut was received from the City, which they were obliged to do. “They just cut the power. They couldn’t care less.”

The applicants were trustees of the Gio Sanctuary for Animals Trust, Michael Bosazza, Barry Platt, Daniel Claassens, Barbara Vollmer and Silver Knight Trustees Proprietary, as well as the Domestic Animal Rescue Organisation (Darg) and Mr Engelbrecht.

The dispute over arrears between the City and the trust dates back to 2014, when the electricity was disconnected due to the sanctuary owing R82 163. which was then paid in full, according to court papers. The electricity account has subsequently been paid in full every month thereafter.

In July 2016, according to the court papers, the City “illegally” disconnected the water supply, citing that R127 746.32 was owed on the water bill. The trust and Darg successfully petitioned the Cape Town High Court and were granted an order directing the City of Cape Town to restore the water supply pending the final resolution of the dispute.

In accordance with the order, the trust instituted action against the City in December 2016 for the City to provide a proper statement of the accounts with substantiating documents and debate the statements with the trust.

Mr Engelbrecht stated that the City attended to the trading address of Darg and changed the water meter, as according to the City, the original water meter was faulty. On August 4 2016, the City sent a notification to the Darg stakeholders of the “merging” of the water and electricity accounts to the existing account.

On May 3 this year, the trust received a letter of demand from the City’s attorneys, Adriaans Attorneys, alleging that R272 870.10 was owed in arrears for property rates and utilities. Included in this amount was an electricity arrears amount of R118 285.09. The water arrears totalled R53 986.87.

The City’s attorneys demanded that this amount be paid back within 14 days, failing which, they would institute legal proceedings for the recovery of the outstanding amount.

In the letter of demand, there is no reference made to the disconnection of the supply of services.

The attorney who brought the application on behalf of the applicants, Craig Assheton-Smith, of Assheton-Smith Incorporated, pointed out that all the electricity bills had been paid in full. He also stated that the water bill was still a matter in dispute and questioned why the amounts allegedly outstanding for water charges differed so much from the original figure claimed in 2016

Mr Assheton-Smith also stated that alleged amounts in respect of sewerage services (R27 868.93) and property rates (R73 710.97) were also incorrect as these accounts have also been settled “each and every month”.

On May 21 this year, the City’s attorneys undertook to advise the City on Mr Asshelon-Smith’s responses, and revert once they had received further instructions. No further response had been received from the City’s attorneys, Mr Asshelon-Smith stated.

Then last Wednesday, June 6, Mr Engelbrecht spoke telephonically to a City representative who refused to identify himself and was advised that electricity to the shelter would be disconnected immediately due to arrears on payments.

According to the court papers, Mr Engelbrecht advised the representative that all electricity arrears had been paid and that consecutive monthly payments were being made.

He stated that the water account was still in dispute and in terms of the court order, the City was interdicted and restrained from interrupting the water supply to the property pending the final resolution of the dispute.

However, in Mr Engelbrecht’s affidavit he claims the City representative advised him that he did not care about the court order in respect of the water account or of the dispute in relation to the electricity account, and that he would proceed to disconnect the supply of electricity which he subsequently did.

Mr Assheton-Smith immediately wrote a letter to the City’s attorney,s advising that the City’s actions were without due legal process and were unlawful. This letter was acknowledged by the City’s attorneys.

On the same day, however, the City delivered a letter to the animal sanctuary stating that the electricity had been disconnected due to an arrears amount of R347 344.77 in respect of water and electricity.

Mr Assheton-Smith subsequently launched the high court application to have the electricity supply reconnected which proved successful.

Acting Justice Keith Engers ordered that the electricity supply be turned back on and the City was interdicted and restrained from interrupting the supply of electricity subject to the City showing cause as to why such an order should not be made final.

Deputy mayor and acting mayoral committee member for finance, Ian Neilson, said it should be noted that the original court order only dealt with the water supply (and not electricity), and it was only in this capacity that the City was restrained from interrupting the water supply.

He said the City would be complying with the interim order with regards to the electricity.

“We will only be able to respond later to the matter of the difference in the amounts owing due to the unavailability of officials before the deadline for comment,” Mr Neilson said.