Joburg Expat: Eskom - How Much More Absurd can it Get?

November 5, 2010

Eskom - How Much More Absurd can it Get?

I bet you’ve been missing my Eskom stories? If not, you might want to skip this post. But I promise you it will make you feel good, for the simple reason that you DON’T have to deal with them! Unless you live in South Africa, and then you can commiserate with me.

I left it off where I was going to take my anger about months of unjustified interest charges and power disconnections to the Rivonia office, having obtained an actual address. I found it, parked, and stood in line. Always carrying my Kindle in my purse for just such occasions, I didn’t mind. What I did mind, though, was when the lady who finally saw me had no clue what I was talking about, threw up her arms, and told me to come back another day to speak to the customer service rep I’d dealt with over the phone (who, you’ll remember, was only competent in dishing out new reference numbers).

I wasn’t so easily appeased, however, and hung out at the reception on my way out until another lady came by who looked a little more knowledgeable (when you've lived in South Africa for a bit you'll become very proficient in judging who can and will help you just by looking at someone). I accosted her, and was successful in that she took me upstairs (upstairs! An improvement for sure from the minions downstairs!) to her office. She was fuming at the incompetence of the first lady who she said knew perfectly well what I wanted but was too lazy to deal with it. What she then tried to explain to me made sense in a way, but I’m not sure I completely understood it. Apparently, the previous tenant at our address had quit paying (as I had already correctly identified as the root cause of all our woes), and so Eskom took out their security deposit to apply to the outstanding charges. When our landlord then paid the account to make it current, Eskom didn’t reapply it to the security deposit account and proceeded to charge us interest for the missing deposit. That still doesn’t explain why it was a different charge every month, but I was so happy that someone even understood my problem that I was ready to jump over the desk and hug this lady. She did some magic on her computer to re-allocate that deposit and declared my problem fixed going forward. What she couldn’t fix, however, was giving me a credit for what we’d already paid, and reversing the reconnection fee of R495. But she promised that she had forwarded the request to the correct department and would personally call me with an update.

Needless to say, that call never came, but I was still reasonably happy to have made some progress. All I had to do was wait for my next invoice and see everything fixed. Or so I thought. I wasn’t even holding my breath for a credit, I just wanted no new interest being charged.

But before we even got there, a whole new set of events unfolded. While I was in Cape Town (a most beautiful place which will warrant its own blog post in due time), our power was once more cut off, as Sibu informed me over the phone, lights working but no outlets, as had happened before. What else to do but call Eskom again? It wouldn’t even have occurred to me that something else was at fault. They actually did come, fixed the problem, and informed me thereof. When Sibu still didn’t have power, she summoned them again, but they refused to come, saying there was power at the box and to get an electrician. Nothing left for me but doing exactly that the very next morning. And this is where I seem to attract plain bad luck: I couldn’t reach the owner’s electrician, so I called another one from the yellow pages (plus it came recommended by Corporate Relocations!) and when they finally got there, they blamed some sort of earth leakage and an “unbalanced circuit board” and billed me R5,900 for half an hour’s work. Now, in perfect hindsight, it seems clear to me that I should have sent them packing and never have paid such an outrageous amount, but when you’ve just come back from a trip and your freezer is oozing a greenish substance, similar in color to what once was a beautiful pool, and having spent a day on the phone with Eskom (who for once was perfectly professional and even sent me a confirmation text message, I have to admit), then your judgment might be slightly clouded. I am now battling to get a portion of that money back, but as it turns out, another annoying thing about South Africa is that you cannot stop a credit card payment BEFORE it goes through, just AFTER. Then you fill out a lengthy form and hope for the best, which means that you will never hear back again.

Where was I? Oh, still waiting for a new Eskom invoice. Which did arrive last week, and I actually had to sit down when I saw it: There was a new “interest on overdue account” charge on it, but that wasn’t the worst – the bill was for R42,500! That is over $6,000! Just as I had resolved not to worry about those old charges, as long as going forward everything would be fine. But $6,000 for a single month of electricity? You can’t just keep paying. I was already mentally preparing for an entire life without electricity, and thinking back fondly to Mosetlha Bush Camp and the donkey boiler as I called Eskom yet again. But for once the Gods seemed to be with me, and after only 10 minutes of waiting I was informed that the bill was a mistake, that the new one was only R4,000, and that it would be emailed to me shortly. Whew!

It will come at no surprise to you that no email ever arrived. Concerned about the due date of said invoice, I called again today. And was informed that it was indeed R3,956, but it would not go out this month, since corrected invoices only go out in the following month. Great, I said, so the due date is next month? No, I was told, it is on the 13th of this month. Okay, I said, but then I would like to have the actually invoice black on white. So sorry, they said, not possible. I suppose I’ll just have to add that to the Eskom stupidity account. And guess what I was given as a consolation for the missing invoice? You guessed it: A new reference number!

The moral of the story is this:

a) If you think it’s bad, it can always be worse.

b) Never EVER use AAA Electrical for your electrical needs around Johannesburg. They are corrupt to the hilt and shamelessly take advantage of expats by charging you exorbitant amounts, maybe even making up a problem that doesn’t exist (who am I to know if there was actually a leakage or just a tripped breaker somewhere down the line from the panel where I couldn’t see it).  I’ve already gotten Corporate Relocations to drop them from their referral list, which makes me feel slightly better.

c) When you first move to South Africa, IMMEDIATELY go to Eskom, take the usual identification documents (passport with visa plus lease agreement or other proof of residence), and open an account in your own name. Do NOT leave the account in the landlord’s name, as you might inherit all sorts of problems.

d) Figure out what the meter reading date is at your house (ours is the 12th of the month), go out to your power box that day, read the meter, and call Eskom with the reading. They will then bill you with that number. They are quite happy not to have to come out, and you will know what to expect.

I hope this was my last post about Eskom, with the possible exception of reporting about a happy ending and everybody living happily ever after.

The only thing to go an do after a frustrating session with Eskom on the phone.
Let's just say I drank a LOT of coffee from 2010 to 2013!