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I want to pay but Jo’burg won’t let me

 

 

THE FIFTH COLUMN

It seems the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) doesn’t want me to pay my electricity bill. That’s odd, because the city is owed something like R40-billion in unpaid utilities. You’d have thought they’d be eager to recoup some of that money, but I don’t think they’re trying very hard.

You may recall that when he took the reins in 2016, Democratic Alliance mayor Herman Mashaba promised to deal with the billing crisis that has beset Jo’burg for decades, driving residents into a state of rage and despair, or at least those residents who are actually willing to pay their bills.

But the billing crisis continues. I’m sure that a big chunk of that R40-billion is unpaid simply because CoJ is simply unable to bill people correctly, if at all. (My last problem, at my old house, took 13 years to resolve. And that was a simple name change. It was fixed a few months after I moved out.)

My fresh billing crisis goes back nearly two years now. When I moved into a new house, I took all the documentation to CoJ and was told I’d soon get the accounts put into in my name. Well, that happened with the rates, but there’s no sign of an electricity bill, two years later.

Several trips to CoJ’s Thuso House “customer care” centre, innumerable phone calls, many emails — and I still haven’t got the promised bill, in my name, showing usage on my meter, and reflecting what I’ve paid already. The people at Thuso House are generally helpful (except for one Bathabile who was actively obstructionist). They say “Yes, yes, your bill will be generated” — and then nothing happens.

You call the 0860 number, and if, after a long wait, you get through (one out of five times), and you get to an actual person (one out of three times), you may get advice that contradicts previous utterances, or you may get another “Yes, you’re correct, we will bill you …” — and then nothing happens.

Emailing is no help at all. I’ve never had a reply to an email I’ve sent to . Oh, sorry — I did get one reply, once, but it was empty. Nothing in it but a banner saying I should get online to deal with the matter.

Signing on to the website is useless. If you have a problem, you’re asked to phone or email — which, as we know, avails naught.

Eventually, I got a call from the credit-control department, wondering vaguely why I hadn’t paid my bill. I explained. They understood. They’d sort it out. That was months ago. Still nothing. I emailed. I emailed again. Nothing.

I put some questions about this debacle to the spokesperson for the member of the mayoral council responsible for finance. No response.

Perhaps a protest action is required. I’ve asked Facebook how people feel about CoJ’s billing and almost all respondents said it was hell — under the hyper-efficient DA (“Look how well we can run a metro!”), it’s still a nightmare. Maybe a class action lawsuit would help?

In Thuso House, there’s a glass enclosure with a big sign that says Centre of Excellence. It is empty.

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Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

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