Eskom: Absolute Power to Turn Off Your Power Whenever They so Choose

I’m actually shaking with rage as I’m writing this. My South African friends will no doubt laugh and shrug their shoulders and tell me “Welcome to Africa.” Noisette tells me that at least it makes for another good story, and he’s quite right. I’m grateful to you, who are reading my blog, for letting me vent for the next ten minutes, otherwise I think I might explode.

Eskom came and turned our power off today. In broad daylight. I wouldn’t even have known but for Sibu’s (our domestic help) quick thinking, who spotted a security guard in our driveway and went to find out what was going on.

What was going on was that there were two people from Eskom, escorted by the security guard from the main gate (who it turns out is obligated to let Eskom into the estate without notifying the tenant) who had just turned off the power at our main box in the driveway. They were actually already on their way when Sibu (who has lived through all my Eskom ordeals with me and whose outrage probably even surpasses my own) rooted them to the spot, no doubt with some salty Zulu flying out of her mouth, and ran to get me. If you’ve been following my blog at all, you will be able to imagine how I came flying down the stairs, six months worth of account statements and reference numbers clutched in my fist, and practically launched myself at those poor guys with all the accumulated rage over Eskom’s incompetence bursting out of me. I think I might have been foaming at the mouth.

I pride myself in my reasonableness. I tell my kids that it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong but just to get on with it and solve the problem. I remind Noisette that nothing ever gets accomplished with rage, especially when directed at the wrong people. And I just told you in the last post that I should just pay the darn bill and find something better to do with my time. But when you’re foaming at the mouth you are no longer all that reasonable. Here they were, turning off our power, without warning, over R700 of withheld payment that WASN’T DUE UNTIL SIX DAYS FROM NOW, when we had just paid our last bill of over R10,000, and when the reason for the withheld payment had been logged in their system for FIVE MONTHS, but no one ever called us back? What probably pissed me off the most was glimpsing their list: Neat columns of house numbers, dozens of them, some of them crossed off, where they were doing exactly the same thing. Talk about alienating your best customers. If they have crews of people to spare, they should send them into the townships and install some much-needed electricity for people who’ve been promised better services since the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison!

I have to say that my fury scored a partial victory. I think they knew I wasn’t backing down, though what I could have really done I don’t know, flung myself in front of their truck? In any case, they agreed to turn the power back on, “just this once,” but admonished me that I must call THE NUMBER. Ha! What a novel idea. Wouldn’t have occurred to me. But that is precisely what I did, since the hasty retreat of the utility crew left me with quite a surplus of steam needing to be vented. You will think “that poor account rep,” but don’t worry. If there is one thing Eskom is good at, it is training their reps in anger management skills. Their customers’ anger, that is. She never once flinched when I flung our entire account history at her and she coolly informed me that my request had been forwarded to the “relevant people” in the accounts department who would get back with me in due time. This prompted me to ask, with a hint of sarcasm, for a definition of “in due time,” and if it was maybe asking too much if it was less than another four months? I think she, too, perhaps sensed that I wasn’t going to be appeased with another reference number, so when I asked to speak with a supervisor, she promptly put me on hold. For about half an hour. And, miracle of miracles, my complaint was finally escalated to the next customer service level, thankfully without a new reference number. The one thing she wouldn’t do is remove the disconnection order from our account, but I was successful in another way: I am now the proud owner of an actual name, at an actual office address (corner Rivonia and Kort), with an actual phone number (8000 121 – though that looks like a very suspicious format), with actual visiting hours (8-4) when people can come in and bring forth their case. 

That is what I’ll be doing tomorrow. Keep posted.

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