Always the gentleman

2013-12-23 00:00

FOR 40 years, Sewdutt Nagasar has worked in the Msunduzi electricity department, most often in a position where he has had to bear the brunt of public anger over power outages.

His colleagues say there could not have been a better person in that position, because in the face of the worst provocation, Nagasar always maintained his cool.

Last week, the unflappable Nagasar — one of the longest-serving municipal employees — bids farewell to his job and the city. He is retiring and moving to Gauteng to be closer to his three children and a grandchild, who live and work there.

Asked about the downside of his job, Nagasar says without hesitation the power outages. He adds that the period of country wide load shedding in 2007/08 was tough. “We tried to draw up timetables and to be as accommodating as possible to businesses and the residents, but in the end, an outage whether planned or not, is never welcome,” he said.

Another difficult period was when the municipality went under administration. There was no money for repairs and this was precisely the time when the city’s ageing infrastructure began to fall apart.

The outages over the past few years, as a result of the infrastructure not being maintained, as well as the blatant theft of electricity and illegal connections, were also lowlights. However, for Nagasar what he learnt at the municipality and being a witness to history far outweigh the negatives of his career.

He considers himself fortunate, being an insider and witnessing the transformation of the municipality from the old municipal structure to the transitional council to the present democratic dispensation. He says that the changes presented enormous challenges, especially as the same resources had to be used to spread services to a wider area.

He describes the transition as challenging but exciting, as it pushed the team in the electricity department to think creatively about finding solutions.

Nagasar joined the electricity department in 1974, when the city’s electrical engineer was Jack Waddy. He worked his way up the ranks studying part time. By 1984, under city electrical engineer Gordon Davis, he became the first black person in the municipality to head a section — the drawing office. What made his position unusual was that he headed an all-white team — a situation unheard of at a time of apartheid job classification. He and his team were in charge of planning the substations and drawing up network plans for the city’s grid, as well as the expansion of the network.

Nagasar went on to work in positions of customer liaison, dealing with residents, industry and the commercial sector. He is particularly proud that during this time, the city’s electricity department received four-star ratings for customer care in 1996 and in 2000, and five-star ratings in 1999 and 2004.

He served as the city’s acting electrical engineer from December 2011 to August 2012. On keeping calm in the face of provocation, he admits that he received a huge dose of help from his wife Sabeetha. He is grateful to her for her support and for putting up with him getting calls at all hours of the day or night, and leaving home at the oddest of hours to deal with outages.

He adds that being spiritual has also helped him and that he has lived by the adage that it is not how others behave towards you, but how you behave towards others — “Show them respect and they will give you respect in turn.”

Nagasar believes he is retiring at a good time when the electricity department is in good hands. He said head of department Sabata Nomnganga and the team are doing a sterling job under trying conditions. According to Nagasar, long-term planned maintenance is back on track and the upgrading of the city’s electrical infrastructure is in hand.

Nomnganga described Nagasar as one of the best managers he has come across and said that he is going to be missed. “He knew the department and the city’s electricity network inside out. He was the best at dealing with customers, always the gentleman and never losing his cool,” said Nomnganga.

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