Forget party politics – our parastatals are lying to us and robbing us blind. Let's send them a message.
It is 9pm in Cradock, Eastern Cape, and I am sitting in the dark surrounded by candles. I can’t put the TV on because the electricity is off again. It seems to be a good moment to contemplate Cyril Ramaphosa’s new dawn. Like the song says, there’s got to be a morning after.
I have been listening to music but my iPod needs to be charged. I can’t phone anyone because the Telkom lines are down. I don’t want to use any other data because I need it to be able to work in the morning. This outage could go on for days. It has before.
So there is silence as well. I feel like a caveman.
We should have anticipated the power outage. Word went round that the electricity would be off on Sunday from 9am to 5pm for “routine maintenance”. No Sunday lunch, no watching the telly after a working week. But we are used to this, we comply.
The electricity didn’t go off so we should have told ourselves it would be a surprise at some other stage. But here, in the Eastern Cape, we live in hope. We have to. Our municipalities are dirt poor or bankrupt – but I have to say this for our municipal and provincial workers, they don’t let the side down by driving shabby cars or collecting garbage themselves. No, they are proud people. They look really smart as they drive to and from offices we provide for them.
So what I am getting to, Cyril – I can call you Cyril can’t I? I feel I know you because there is so much talking in politics today – is that this new dawn gig will have to include a shake-up of your parastatals. How to say this? I’ll give it a go. They are shocking in their lack of delivery, from the top to the bottom.
Here in Cradock we are inclined to be exposed to the bottom end of the chain.
It would be only fair to give an example, other than the lights going out again. There are many such examples online but I will get to that.
On the Thursday before the long weekend, 26 April, a truck came down our road and knocked down two Telkom poles. The police arrived and Telkom arrived, probably because the police had called them. They never arrive when civilians call them. There was an exchange of words between the parties about who was responsible for the poles coming down, some of them heated, and eventually the Telkom crew put the poles back up.
Realising that we had no phone line and no wi-fi, we went outside. The Telkom man said the poles were up but not connected – he would come back and do that on Monday “when the cement is set”. Friday was a public holiday he said, adding bitterly that “Telkom does not pay overtime”.
It was just after 3 in the afternoon when the poles came down, by the way.
Only he didn’t come back. He has still not come back – 14 days later. The reason? There is no cable in the Eastern Cape, anywhere, he claims. First he said it was coming from Port Elizabeth. He only ordered this cable on the following Wednesday because Tuesday was also a public holiday so he just took time out.
Cable has to come from Johannesburg, he eventually said (shortly after having said it was coming from East London, which it wasn’t), when the residents of our street found him and challenged him. We now had three different versions of the story.
Asked why the city of Port Elizabeth had no cable, he said it was “too small”.
Pleased with ourselves for anticipating such an eventuality, we hauled out the emergency router we had bought from Telkom. We work from home online so wifi is essential.
Only it wouldn’t connect so we asked the Telkom technician for help. He was still outside supervising people who were putting up the poles to nowhere.
He took a look and said no, this won’t connect. Telkom does not have a mast here. We enlisted our son-in-law, a tech-head of note, and he confirmed that there was no way this router was going to work. There was no connection at all.
Fruitless phone calls to Telkom followed. Nobody could make it connect. Nobody followed through.
But we had a contract for the router, we were paying it monthly. You know how sensitive Telkom is about you paying your bill, right? But Telkom in Cradock wanted nothing to do with it so we schlepped down to PE to return it there. That’s a two-and-a-half hour drive, each way.
After queuing for two hours we were told, no way. We had purchased it in Cape Town. It had to go back there. And the contract had to be cancelled online, the lass in front of us with a computer said. She could not do it.
We said we lived in Cradock and had driven there for this purpose. A colleague was called and she shook her head in that way people who live to give you bad news do.
They did not give a rat’s arse. We had to return the router to Cape Town and cancel our contract online.
Okay, here is the rub. On what bloody line?
On Monday we phoned a supervisor in Port Elizabeth and she confirmed that she could not help. She assured us that Cradock had reception. Her technician was obviously rubbish but what could she do?
Nothing, which is what every Telkom operative does. She did say that the line would be repaired the following week, next week, when the cable arrived. Three weeks after the poles came crashing down.
Vukani South Africa! They take the salaries, which we provide in our taxes, at the end of every month, but they are not accountable to us. They are not accountable to anyone.
As South Africans we are so busy squabbling over party politics that we have forgotten to be consumers. We sit in the dark without questioning it, we allow a parastatal to lie to us about reception and cable coming from the north and we do nothing. We accept it as our lot.
When one branch of a mighty organisation cannot take a piece of equipment back and cancel a contract, we know there is something wrong. Like, maybe they want to keep taking our money?
So what we did was go straight out to another server and arrange to have a new service put in. Telkom goodbye.
I would like to propose that we protest. It won’t require anything strenuous like marching or even finding a match for the tyres. For one month, just don’t pay your Telkom bill – all of you, all of us.
Send them a message that we want service delivery. If you don’t feel brave enough to do that, change your server. There are good companies out there. When the whole shebang comes tumbling down, Telkom will have plenty of chance to contemplate the error of their ways as they join the nine-million people in this country who have no jobs.
I urge us all not to be complacent about sitting in the dark, or being unable to work or run your business. Electricity and telephone connections have no colour, they do not join political parties. A country such as South Africa is supposed to supply them.
So I come back to you, Cyril my man – tell these people, who after all work for you, to do some work. Tell them to stop lying to people. Put on end to the incompetence.
It’s all very well putting SA on the world stage economically again. What happens when the dudes get here and the lights and phones don’t work? Or there is no water coming out of our taps?
It can be done. In the UK telephone companies always have cable to hand and if they don’t replace your service within a day, they know you will go to the competition. Same with power.
One more thing. I Googled Telkom complaints. The site had more horror per page than a Stephen King novel. Don’t take my word for it, read them. People are fed up. Telkom and Eskom demand immediate payment but consumers are left without service for weeks and months on end.
Go on, read them. Your people are speaking to you.
And fellow South Africans, don’t take this any more. It is simple, go elsewhere or refuse to pay them. Send a message. Thank you. DM
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Diane Cassere is a veteran journalist working at titles like Daily News in Durban, Rand Daily Mail in the glory years, and the Cape Times where she worked for three decades as reporter, columnist and later as promotions manager in all its many ventures from the Big Walk to Businessman of the Year and the Shawco Company Relay. Author of Diane Cassere's Cape Town, sub and writer on Chichester Observer (UK) and revise sub-editor on all Independent's titles around the country when it was a pleasure to work there and their newspapers still had credibility. Now proudly subbing for Daily Maverick.
Adolf Hitler was the first European leader to ban human zoos.