July 26, 2011

Time to Put My Eskom File in the Drawer

So for almost one and a half years I have been indignant.

If you search for "Eskom" on this blog, you will find all my previous Eskom posts and can chronologically follow, if you're so inclined, how I was at first ignorant, then surprised, determined, outraged, foaming at the mouth, and finally resigned at the sheer incompetence and perhaps even malevolence of this flagship of South Africa's bureaucracy.

For almost one and a half years, my Eskom file, consisting of a bunch of stapled-together invoices adorned with hand-scribbled meter readings and about a hundred reference numbers, has been sitting on my desk. As I was always told to "call back in a few days," there was never a good time to file it away. It has been staring me in the eye almost every day, with a big "unfinished business" radiating from it like a bad odor. I must admit I haven't called my friend Mr. X in a long while, resigned to the fact that we will not get our undeserved reconnection fee and interest charges back from Eskom.

But since I hated to end my story on "resigned," the file stayed in place. Until now. I am proud to inform you that "resigned" has been replaced with "elated." How so, you ask? And no, the obvious answer - "they gave us our money back" - is definitely not an option. What then could have changed my attitude?

Simple: I found someone worse off than us. Much worse. I was having coffee with a few other moms from school, and somehow the conversation turned to electric bills. One mom shared her City of Joburg odyssey with me, which sounded awfully much like my Eskom story, except it had to do with water rather than power, and a lot of it. Somehow, the City of Joburg insisted that they had two water meters at their newly built house, not one, and happily charged them vast amounts of water usage from this phantom meter. By vast amounts I mean  R200,000 ($30,000) in a single month. This is where back home in the U.S. I wouldn't worry one bit, because the amount is so ridiculous. One simple phone call should rectify the situation. But of course not here. For many months this went on, until the City of Joburg finally consented to look into it and sent an inspector. Who, lo and behold, found out that indeed there was only one meter at this house, meaning the other one must have erroneously been attached to their account. Problem solved, right? Nooooo. Because, it turns out, the City of Joburg must  use the same computer system as Eskom, a system that cannot reverse interest charges. At least that is the excuse. Just as in my case, the wrong charges were finally purged from their account, but not so the interest that had accrued over many months of non-payment (I mean, who is going to actually pay R200,000 and hope they'll get them back one day).

This family's battle over their unjustified interest charges lasted about 5 years, at which point they finally gave up and just paid them to get them off the account. The bill: R48,000. That's in the ballpark of $7,000! Their cost of doing business with the City of Joburg.

Which is why I came home that morning and immediately shoved my Eskom file into a drawer. From my calculations they still owe us R795, $115 or so. If our cost of doing business with Eskom is only $115, we'll gladly pay it.

In fact, I'd probably pay anybody $115 who can take a to-do item off my list that's been on there for 18 months!

Previous Eskom posts:

Eskom: Adding Insult to Injury

Welcome to Africa
Eskom: Absolute Power to Turn Off your Power
Eskom: How much More Absurd can it Get?
My Truce with Eskom