In South Africa, the state-owned power company Eskom is asking for a more than 50 percent rate hike. Eskom cites higher energy costs as one of the reasons. The request comes at a time when the country is facing periodic power shortages. Regulators will rule on the matter after public hearings.

One of the groups planning to fight the rate hike is the National Consumer Forum. From Pretoria, Thami Bolani, chairperson of the group, spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about Eskom?s rate hike proposal.

?The proposed increase is 53 percent and the reaction to this proposal from all political parties in the country, the trade unions, consumer groups [has] been very, very negative. Because we all understand that if this is implemented it will impact negatively on the majority of households in the country and small businesses,? he says.

Bolani says the high cost of electricity could force people to face what he considers to be unacceptable choices. ?As we speak right now, quite a number of households live from hand to mouth. So if they increase the [cost of] electricity?by up to 53 percent, what you?re actually saying is that people should sacrifice on other basic necessities, such as food and other things,? he says.

Responding to Eskom?s statement that higher energy costs are driving its request, the National Consumer Forum chairperson says, ?We are aware that some of the input costs have gone up. We do appreciate that, but we think that the problems Eskom has been experiencing are man-made management problems. So we think that those need to be resolved and the consumers and small businesses of this country should not be expected to foot the bill for all the mistakes that were caused by Eskom management.?

The National Consumers Forum says it will meet with other groups on forming a common strategy against the proposed increase. ?Because if we speak with one voice,? he says, ?it will be easy for government and Eskom to understand.? It will also submit a statement to regulators on behalf of consumers.

Bolani says Eskom should get only a 14 percent rate hike, which he says is still way above inflation.