Blackout threat for Fort Hare over bill: Energy company in dispute over an unpaid R1.7m debt

A dispute between the University of Fort Hare and an energy company reached boiling point yesterday when Blackboard Energy bosses almost came to blows with campus security in Alice.

Blackboard was in Alice campus to remove powersaving fittings they installed at the campus three years ago, claming the university had failed to pay since October last year.

This while the university said its contract with the company expired in August last year.

However, Blackboard is adamant that UFH pay up a debt it claims has accumulated to R1.7-million. Failure to pay may result in a total blackout that will affect thousands of students.

The Saturday Dispatch can reveal UFH was warned on July 4 the company “will go on campus and remove all the fittings we installed plunging entire campus into darkness”.

But Blackboard could not make good on their threat yesterday as they were stopped by security from entering the campus.

Blackboard Energy implemented energy saving programme at the institution at their own cost, with the university paying the savings.

UFH was paying the company R125000 a month and now has an unpaid bill of R1.7-million, according to the company.

“We had been receiving our payments until last year when the new administration came in. Thus our invoice [is] still stuck today with university officials of whom we need to be ‘connected to them’ for our invoice to be processed,” said a Blackboard chief executive Vuyisa Nongauza.

The university rubbished the claims, saying their contract with the company expired on August 31 2016.

UFH spokesman Khotso Moabi said because of the contract expiring “we take exception to any supplier who comes to campus without permission to threaten with intentions to damage our property”.

Among the July communications, the company asked for the intervention into the impasse from UFH chancellor Dumisa Ntsebeza.

But Ntsebeza referred them back to the university council chairman.

The company sought the intervention of Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande to compel the university to pay up before they carry out the removals that would affect all operations at the university.

Nongauza said they would seek a court interdict against UFH allowing the company to remove their fittings without the university hindering them. — zingisam@dispatch.co.za

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