‘We don’t give advice, but finding other sources of power is good’

2011-05-04 00:00

I HAD a choice: bellyache, like everyone else or go and find out what the problem was.

The problem was that it is impossible to find parking outside the renamed A. S. Chetty Msunduzi Electricity Department building. The problem was that there was already a queue two hours long for kiosks dealing with consumer complaints and it wasn’t even 9 am. The problem was that dialing 5000 from the indifferently serviced information desk gets no more of a result than dialling 033 393 5000 from my home.

After standing holding the phone for some minutes I asked the information desk receptionist why they didn’t just have a recorded message telling people what the likely time of reconnection would be. She shrugged. I couldn’t blame her, she was having her hair plaited at the time. Eventually, the person plaiting the hair of the receptionist at the info desk advised: why don’t you go to Havelock Road; that’s where the faults department is?

I have lived in Pietermaritzburg for 20-odd years and never once been told that Havelock Road has anything to do with the regular outages that Hilton suffers. Apparently it does. The security guard drooling over the woman plaiting the hair of the information desk receptionist gave me detailed directions.

At Havelock Road I found an equally indifferent receptionist at the main gate who refused to interrupt her very important discussion about the price of lunch on her cellphone for a paying consumer of Msunduzi Electricity. Once she had ordered lunch she re-directed me into the inner hub.

“Second building on the right after the boom. Look for the big no-smoking sign above the window.”

I filled in the form and was perturbed to see how many people were ahead of me visiting the faults department. Imagine my surprise to count no fewer than 25 electricity department vehicles sitting idle in the forecourt.

“Just right of that tree,” an Electricity Department employee advised, enjoying the early morning sun of a winter morning. “There’s a window with a no-smoking sign above it.”

There was. And on the other side of that window were four women and a man, who was smoking­. One of the women came to the window.

“Do you know what time we can expect electricity to return to Winterskloof?” I shouted through the closed window.

She opened the window and I stepped back to allow the fumes to exit. The man and his cigarette quickly left.

I repeated my question.

“They deal with inquiries.”

She pointed to two women fielding calls from consumers who both were giving as much attention to their cellphones as the incoming calls on their headsets.

Eventually one of them was persuaded to come to the window and I asked her about Winterskloof.

“Where?”

I was astonished. “But surely you’ve had lots of calls. We’ve been out for 18 hours already.”

She looked at me. Clearly I was white and I had found my way thought the myopia of bureaucracy to their office.

“Go get the boss,” she told the underling in Zulu.

The boss arrived minus the cigarette.

“Yes, no, they had been working on it all night, hey, and the problem was old infrastructure …”

“So you’ve obviously read the official line in the newspapers. Look, I pay more than five grand a year for electricity to Msunduzi electricity before I use any, I could pump that kind of money into generating my own. What would your advice be.”

“We don’t give advice,” he said, “but finding other sources of power is good.”

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