Servants of the public

On Friday night my power supplies were cut off. Nothing as big as North America mind, but still the cause of some localised disturbance. It happened at 2 o’clock in the morning and triggered my burglar alarm.

As I wrote last week, I had had a scare a few nights before, waking in the middle of the night to see what I believed to be an armed gunman in my bedroom. On that occasion I had made my escape through the window in an en-suite bathroom. This time there was no sign of a burglar in the bedroom. But, on the assumption he was in another part of the house I bellowed ”I’m coming to get you, you b…….” before running into the bathroom and jumping through the window again.

As I limped triumphantly towards the garden gate it struck me that all the street lights were out. That was when I realised that the alarm had nothing to do with burglars, but was a consequence of the Johannesburg city council shutting down power supplies in my area, to facilitate some repairs. The cut-off had triggered the alarm. Being the Johannesburg city council, they had failed to give me any notification. The lazy, rotten, sons of …..

Relations between me and the city council have been in a bad way for a very long time. In fact, such is my prejudice against them that I am quite prepared to believe they are responsible for North America’s black out and would urge the CIA, the FBI and the Mounties to immediately send their best operatives out here to root out the guilty men. And women.

The collapse in relations between me and the city council dates back several years, to an occasion when they sent me their monthly municipal services bill, which included a charge of nearly half a million rand for one month’s supply of water. The ridiculousness of the charge becomes apparent when one considers that this was considerably more than I had paid for the house when I bought it a few years before.

Assuming the error was an accounting mistake which would be automatically rectified, I ignored the charge, only to have a villainous-looking gang of council workers turn up and disconnect my electricity supplies for non payment of the water charge.

This all happened before my brain operation for Parkinson’s disease, so I still had the shakes badly and was on crutches. I hobbled out of the house to argue with them. Waving the municipality’s invoice at them, I demanded how I could have used half a million rands worth of water. After admiring the document they gleefully proceeded to cut my supplies. ”We’ve been given order,” said the leader as I spluttered and waved my crutch at them.

From then on relations between myself and the Council went from bad to very bad. To give them some credit they did reduce that water bill to some R160 000 (a little less than I had paid for the house) and now it stands at R40 000. but I have lost count of the number of times they have disconnected my electricity and water supplies. The last time, in an act of municipal vandalism, they arrived with spanners and tried to leave with the meters themselves.

At one stage I hired lawyers, including counsel, in an attempt to stop them. On the eve of my application to the high court for an urgent interdict the council’s lawyers capitulated, giving my lawyers a written undertaking that they would not attempt to cut off my supplies again until the dispute had been sorted out. A few days later, the council cut off my water again.

In an act of desperation we decided to try a personal approach to city hall. ”An act of desperation”, because the municipal queues are notorious. After a three-hour wait we finally got to see a ”consultant” who was suitably shocked by our sorry tale. ”This is above my mantle-piece,” he announced. It would need to be dealt with by people more senior than himself. Unfortunately, he added, such senior people did not deal with the public.

So, as I stood there in my garden on Friday, shivering in my boxer shorts at 2am in the morning, I reflected that this is, after all, Africa. The beasts of the forest, the lions and leopards and elephants have been largely contained in game reserves, or zoos. But as long as long as the Johannesburg city council’s gangs roam the streets it remains, in more ways than one, the dark continent. – Guardian Unlimited

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