Joburg Expat: My Truce with Eskom

June 4, 2011

My Truce with Eskom

Here I thought I had finally come to a sort of unspoken agreement with Eskom (our electricity provider here in South Africa): Every once in a while I'd call my new friend there, Mr. Smith (I am not kidding, that's his actual name; come to think of it, maybe it is just what he wants me to think his name is), the prize of his direct phone line having been the reward of many hours on the phone with at least twenty Eskom customer service reps. I'd call to remind him that I'm still owed about R500 for unjustified interest charges and reconnection fees, and he'd tell me, ever so nicely, that he couldn't access my bill at the moment but could I perhaps call back a few days later when my bill was loaded in the system?

This went on for a long time - after all we've been living here for 15 months - and I had come to terms with it. Or I thought I did, until a new annoyance with Eskom has cropped up: The power has been going off at precisely the same time for about three weeks. Once at 11:30 in the morning, and the other time at 2:30 at night. The only reason I know this is because we own one ancient relic from the olden days, and Sunshine is the one stuck with it. It is an electric alarm clock, which still works like a charm, but being old like it is, it has no backup battery. Mind you, we do have newer alarm clocks, but they run on American power. I actually did try to hook them up to the transformers we bought for every room, but it turns out a transformer doesn't work in the case of a clock. The voltage is correct, but somehow  alarm clocks use the frequency of the electricity to determine their speed, and a clock running on 50 Hz isn't quite the same as one that runs on 60. Who would have known?

Cheap as we are, we didn't simply buy new alarm clocks for everyone, but dug in our "expat electric appliances" box that we'd lugged from Germany to the U.S. to Singapore and back, and, lo and behold, came up with this museum piece. Coming from Noisette's student days (I told you we were cheap!) in Germany, it works like a charm here, but only as long as the power is on. So for the last three weeks, I've been greeted by a tearful Sunshine every morning, because her alarm clock was blinking and she had no idea when she was supposed to wake up. Every night I'd patiently reset it (a cumbersome procedure on these old clunkers), only to see it blinking again the next day.

To be honest, it's not a huge inconvenience. We've long learned to never set the clocks on any of our DVD players and such here in South Africa, because the electricity is too finicky. It's only ever off for a split second, and honestly, I could just get on with it and buy a new alarm. And yet it bothers me. It bugs me that something that shouldn't happen, happens. It's not just us, as it turns out, my neighbor observed the same thing (that's always a relief!) And I think maybe there is something more sinister going on, somebody tapping into our power, or a precursor to an actual outage, probably when we'll next be travelling. Or a new billing disaster brewing without my knowledge, which will get me started with Mr. Smith all over again.

To understand my trepidations regarding anything related to Eskom, you might read my previous posts on this topic:

Eskom: Adding Insult to Injury
Welcome to Africa
Eskom: Absolute Power to Turn Off your Power
Eskom: How much More Absurd can it Get?