Dear Durban Electricity

This is the second time in my life that I’ve been so utterly frustrated by such abysmally inefficient service that I’ve had the need to write about it. The last time was 10 years ago.

I have no illusions that this will lead to any sort of positive change within your (dis)organisation, but this is the only way I can actually get it off my chest.

My troubles started when I had the great misfortune of moving house on the 1st of July 2012. Well, moving house was okay and I’m in a beautiful place, but this was the date that you decided that rental tenants can no longer open electricity accounts in their own names. What an irresponsible bunch we clearly are, that we have to resort to boarding school type rules. Will there be inspection before breakfast, too?

Anyway, I duly handed over my R1,000 deposit to my retired landlord, who had the melancholy task of queuing to open an electricity account on my behalf. In his name. To be delivered to his address.

Making sense yet? No, I didn’t think so.

My retired landlord lives about 40kms away from me. It’s probably not much to you that he should drive this distance to deliver my electricity bill to me, but he’s not the most active retiree there ever was. So, he called me in August to let me know what my account number is, how much I owed and when it was due, and I made payment via EFT.

When my landlord did eventually meander into town, he brought me the account, and I noticed there was a balance carried forward, from before the date that I took occupation. In my past years of experience in dealing with your (dis)organisation, calling to query something on the phone is mostly a fruitless exercise, now made 100% so by the fact that I’m not the account holder, just the recipient of the service, and of course, the one who must make payment thereof. Also, I don’t have unlimited funds for airtime to hold on for the interminable time that it takes to get to speak to a human being.

It took a few weeks to gather up the strength and courage necessary for an actual visit to the Electricity Department building, but I got together my ID document, my lease agreement to prove I was living in the residence being billed for this particular account, and of course, the bill itself.

On arrival, the grumpy lady at the front desk directed me to the correct queue, where I spent a depressing hour and a half playing a very bleak version of musical chairs with other dispirited strangers.

When I could finally rejoice that I had reached the front of the queue, I proudly presented my paperwork and explained to quite a friendly lady that I wanted to query the balance, and also to change the address that the bill was mailed to. What happened next is almost a blur, because I was so swiftly shot down in flames that I actually nearly cried.

“You have to have a letter from your landlord and a copy of his ID.”
“But… Lease agreement…”
“No. NEXT!”

Fantastic.

I called up my landlord and explained the situation to him, which then became a whole other challenge. We agreed that when he “had the time” he would get the required documents to me, so that I could waste another two hours of my life sharing germs with crotchety individuals.

Meanwhile, another bill arrived. At my landlord’s home. Very effective system, this, isn’t it? He called me to let me know the balance, but he unfortunately didn’t have the actuall bill in front of him, so he couldn’t tell me when it was due. He was going to call me back. He didn’t.

In perusing the back of my previous bill for some signs of hope, I saw that I could register at www1.durban.gov.za/eaccountreg/home.do so that I can get the bill emailed to me, thereby saving me the anguish of having to spend another two hours anywhere near the vicinity of your building. Brilliant! Well, I can only imagine that it probably is, when it actually works?

No way, Jose.

I realised I could no longer avoid making the dreaded call to your (dis)organisation to try to find out this elusive but all-important piece of information, and I was really quite pleasantly surprised to find out that you have the ability for callers to leave a message, and you will call us back! Except… You don’t. Three odd weeks later, I am still waiting for that call.

On Thursday last week I was out from about 11am to about 3pm, and when I got back the building Supervisor saw me coming in, and with a furrowed brow and a somewhat judgemental look, informed me that you guys had paid a visit, to disconnect my electricity. I’m just taking a stab here, but is this the most efficient section of your department, or what?! Because getting it reconnected is almost a whole other story on its own!

Are you still here? Because wait! There’s more! So much more!

I must interject here and take some of the responsibility for things getting to this point, though. I should have made more of an effort to get the right information at the right time. Don’t you think?

In the continuing saga, I dutifully arrived at Durban Electricity, cash in hand, at 07h30 on Friday morning. Because that’s when you guys open your doors. You even say so in the recording when we call you. But it must be different on Fridays, because myself and many other bedraggled souls stood outside in the drizzle until a couple of minutes past 08h00, when the doors were finally opened.

Luckily for me, there were two out of three cashiers present, and I was the third person in the queue, so my payment was successfully made by 08h06. My luck, however, rapidly changed once again. It seems it’s important for you to uphold this reputation. I asked the cashier when I could expect to get my electricity reconnected, and she barked through the bulletproof glass, “ WE ONLY TAKE PAYMENT HERE. GO TO THAT QUEUE.” Just what I wanted to hear.

I have to ask… Is it really SO difficult to get one part of your computer system to talk to another in this instance? I mean, disconnected > payment > ding ding ding let’s let the reconnection chaps know! Or do you just take some perverse pleasure in watching us shine your chairs with our butts?

Aaanyway, an hour or so later I was assured my electricity would be reconnected that same day. Friday. You guys love a good joke!

Come 3pm, and still no electricity, I braced myself to make yet another call. After eventually getting through to the right department and providing my landlord’s name and account number, the conversation went something like this…

“Yes, they will come today.”
“That’s great! Could you let me know more or less what time?”
“Yes, they will come today.”
“I really appreciate that. More or less before which hour?”
“Yes, they will come today.”
“Thanks so much for your help. Are you able to give me an indication of timescale here?”
“Yes, they will come today.”

I really don’t know why I was so surprised. Also by the fact that they DID NOT come that day.

After a refreshing cold shower on Saturday morning, I made yet another call…

“Your reconnection was sent out yesterday.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that. But nobody came. Because, no electricity.”
“Have you checked your switches?”
“I can tell you with absolute certainty that NOBODY CAME because I have the key to let them into the basement.”

I must say, the gentleman I had on the line was very helpful thereafter, clickety clicking on his keyboard while telling me he was sending someone out, now (09h00).

After the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had, provided by my exceptionally kind and sympathetic neighbours, someone did actually arrive at 11h00. Oozing stale alcohol out of his every pore. I guess that explains his absence the previous day.

Success! At last! Thank God we had success at last!

If you’ve read this entire letter, I hope I haven’t transferred the stress of my situation to you. Unless you are someone from Durban Electricity.

May we never have the misfortune of repeating this ludicrous situation, because then I think I may really lose it. In the interim, my poor landlord will have to suffer the ordeal of paying you guys a visit to try to get my bills mailed to me from now on. Wish us luck.

Yours Sincerely,
Liz

P.S. I can’t believe I’ve actually managed to write this entire text without dropping an F-Bomb once. That, my friends, is real restraint.

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  1. #1 by James on March 9, 2017 - 9:18 am

    Dear Liz,

    That was truly great stuff. It brought a smile to my face.

    Yesterday I had my electricity disconnected while I had guests over having lunch. How embarrassing!
    There was no prior notice just some sneaky guy who disconnected it and left a note in my post box.
    The reason was the account was in arrears. It was not.
    I had my proof of payment (The same method I’ve been using for the past two years).
    Anyway I rush to the office and pay again.

    They said it would be reconnected yesterday. It wasn’t.

    After looking it up online it is illegal for them to disconnect without notifying you and giving you a chance to respond.

    Anyway, thanks for your post. Glad to know I’m not the only one.

    • #2 by Liz Laughalot on March 9, 2017 - 2:00 pm

      Ah James, I feel your pain man! You also gave me a chuckle though, thanks for sharing 🙂

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