Doing our bit

2014-10-30 00:00

‘We should not define service deliver in such narrow terms that we are absolved of responsibility.’

IHAD a colleague who spoke his mind on anything that he knew or believed was wrong or morally reprehensible.

In fact, he was direct and blunt, regardless of who he was speaking to; whether a stranger or another colleague. He shot from the hip, so to speak.

He once retorted to another colleague: “Pay your electricity bill before you complain that the power in your neighbourhood is always out.”

The second colleague was complaining about the latest power outage in his neighbourhood that had left them in the dark for days. The electricity supply to his area was erratic, but there were rumours that the majority of the residents in his neighbourhood do not pay for their electricity, him included.

They tamper with the internal components of the prepaid electricity meters to give themselves a lifetime supply of free electricity. Others have connected themselves illegally, putting the supply under strain.

This causes power outages, which necessitates someone contacting Eskom. When you report the fault, Eskom consultants will ask for a meter number to determine the location of the fault. The officials can also use the meter number to see how much you spend on electricity, and because of that, those short-changing the power utility do not like calling Eskom directly but prefer to call the newspaper.

You see, as journalists, we are sometimes the Trojan horse for members of the public who are struggling to get answers from authorities, especially when they relate to services such as water and electricity.

“You see, you must pay for your electricity so that you can get it and if there are faults, the engineer can come quickly to fix it,” the first colleague lectured. “The people in Hilton pay for their electricity, that is why a municipal car will go there in the dead of night to fix faults because those are paying customers,” he continued.

His argument was that before we complain about service delivery, we should look at what we have done to enable such delivery.

Service delivery has been a thorn in the government’s side for the past few years as service-delivery protests have grown each year and are becoming more violent.

Recently, there were protests in the Mooi River area that brought the whole town to a halt and even affected the N3, as protesters vented their anger. This also caused the collapse of the town’s political leadership, and the municipality is now under administration.

There are people who simply cannot afford to pay for the delivery of water and electricity. They cannot be penalised for this, but those who can pay but choose not to need to be tackled.

While some service-delivery complaints are genuine, we should not define service deliver in such narrow terms that we are absolved of responsibility.

In our country, there is a disturbing culture of dependency where we demand everything from the government —houses, jobs, roads, toilets — even though we can provide some of the things ourselves.

We define service delivery as “from government to us”, and that narrow definition will not take us anywhere as individuals or as a country.

Service delivery involves, among other things, honouring the social contract we have with each other and the government by paying for our services instead of trying to cheat the system.

Paying for those services allows for them to be delivered again tomorrow.

It is in the small acts of tidiness, like looking for the litter bin on the side of the road so that you can dispose of that Coca-Cola bottle you have been drinking from, instead of throwing it out of a moving car onto a public road.

It is taking the initiative to repair a leak on a water pipe in your area to ensure the water is not wasted, rather than waiting for officials to come, if they come.

It is doing your part to help the country save whatever resources we have so they can be properly directed to where they are needed the most and can make a big difference.

Paying for services is not an act of extortion; it is self-service because if you honour your obligations, you have every right to make a fuss when the the government fails to honour its part.

• Thamsanqa Magubane is a journalist at The Witness.

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