TOBY SHAPSHAK: Joburg City Power-less to stop its own rogue contractors
I had to get an armed guard to prevent the City of Joburg from erroneously disconnecting my electricity – despite their contractors having come to the wrong address entirely
The name and house number were wrong, the address was for an entirely different street and the electricity meter number was incorrect, yet City Power contractors tried to disconnect our electricity last Wednesday morning.
The only way I could prevent them – because they refused to listen to common sense – was to get my private security firm, Beagle Watch, to send an armed guard to stand in their way. Without this they would have disconnected the electricity to the wrong house, in the wrong street, in the middle of winter – a mistake entirely of their own making. Welcome to Gangsta’s Paradise.
Two contractors from Lefhumo Lwa Barema Trading Enterprise arrived in the morning with documents stating the electricity “to this premises has been disconnected as the account is on arrears”.
Having misread my meter number, the two contractors got increasingly aggressive and hostile and would not listen to reason.
No matter how much I tried to explain to them that the name and addresses were wrong – the first document was addressed to “Mkhize” and the second to an architectural development firm, both for another house number and in a totally different road – these two men kept insisting the meter number was the same.
This was despite a press release from the City of Joburg’s director of communications and stakeholder relationships, Kgamayane Maphologela, on July 14 2020, which clearly states: “There are currently no municipal agents assigned to [ratepayers’] properties to disconnect water or electricity supply.”
It was only when we showed the contractors our City of Joburg rates statement, which was up to date, that we realised that they had the wrong meter number as well. But that was not before nearly an hour’s worth of increasingly aggressive haggling by the two contractors, who refused to accept that they had the incorrect information. They had conceded that the name and street address were wrong (our house is on the corner of the wrong street) but maddeningly kept insisting the meter number was what mattered.
At first, however, assuming that at the very least they had been able to get the meter number right, my wife and I tried to reason that if the name and address were wrong, there must be a billing mistake.
What the President said on TV and what is happening on the ground are different things
When I called their boss, Lefhumo general manager Neels van der Merwe, to explain the mistake, he listened, said the orders came from City Power and put the phone down on me.
When I called him a second time, identifying myself as a reporter, he told me the truest thing anyone has said about SA in this pandemic: “What the President said on TV and what is happening on the ground are different things.”
When I asked if he knew what he was doing was illegal, referring to what his own client had said two weeks ago in a press release, he replied: “I can’t do on my own. This [disconnection order] was issued to me.”
One of the contractors, to his credit, called later to apologise after I told Van der Merwe his staff had gotten everything wrong.
Meanwhile I had sent a long e-mail to Maphologela, the mayoral spokesperson, the billing e-mail addresses supplied by the city for account queries and the two local DA councillors in my area. Maphologela replied within half an hour and the matter appears resolved.
I can guarantee that had I not been a journalist, this would not have happened.
And it’s occurred before. A colleague told me City Power disconnected the electricity to her house for the same reason a few years ago, using the entirely wrong address for a totally different street and customer.
Luckily I had private security to call before City Power’s contractors broke its own rules about disconnections. What’s more troubling is that the City of Joburg has a director of communication saying one thing and its own department doing something else – even when it’s completely incorrect, as it was in my case.
- Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff magazine
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