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March 2014

"Pass the torch"

Like all individuals around the world, we are entitled to what we are promised. Be it a service, a product or simply an agreement. Unfortunately, it seems this is not the case in South Africa where broken promises and bad (or non-existent) service delivery are the order of the day.

The new Consumer Act states that every consumer has the right to insist on what they signed up for, be it a new video player, or electricity. Oops, the cat’s now out of the bag – I mentioned the dreaded “electricity” word. Is it not our right to have what we pay for delivered to our houses or businesses? Can we not expect that, once we sign on the dotted line, we can rightfully expect that Eskom, our esteemed national electricity provider, will deliver on their promise to provide a “fairly” stable electricity supply?

So, why is it then that, seemingly, every time the slightest change in weather conditions happens, we end up sitting in the dark, counting our various body parts (or in some cases our partner’s) until Eskom deigns to send a technician out to look at the problem?

Give them their due, we regularly get (the cold comfort) of sms notifications that routine maintenance is being done on pole xyz and that we will be without electricity for most of the day. Great, we say, perhaps now they will find the gremlin in the works and fix the problem. Not so! It seems that this “routine maintenance” only worsens the situation, causing more problems than previously experienced - and now we don’t even need the weather to cause wide-spread blackouts.

Is there an end in sight? (or should that be “light at the end of the tunnel”?) Can we expect to see a change in this situation in the near future? I think that perhaps Homer Simpson has the answer to that: “DOH!”
Expected delivery of much-needed additional electricity from Medupi is running an estimated 3 years(!) behind the original schedule – and what’s more, those of you who say that’s ok, we have Kusile – news for you... Kusile will not go on-line until Medupi is complete. All six of the Medupi units have to be commissioned first. (we are currently waiting for the first one to be completed) This delay has caused the cost of the Medupi project to increase from an already gargantuan R91.2 billion to an even more bloated R105-billion! Pah! Mere chump change, I tell you!

And that’s not all folks... It seems that, with the resignation of Chief Executive, Brian Dames, who will leave Eskom’s well-lit halls in March 2014, things are going to get a bit bumpy (ier?). Mr. Dames claims he is leaving due to “personal reasons”. Get this - to spend “more time with his family”. Who of us can afford to pass up an (extremely) well-paying job to spend more time with the family? Could it perhaps be due to the (no doubt) handsome “golden handshake” he will receive from Eskom? Money we, the customer, pay in their ever-increasing rate hikes? And what happens when the next damp-squib CEO resigns? Do we then feather that particular fat cat’s already well-padded nest for stellar non-performance to the tune of millions as well? - instead of the loot being invested into the upgrading of existing power plants to the benefit of all, not just some corporate has-been? Can we afford to carry on like this until we are all sitting in our lounges rubbing two sticks together to make a cup of tea? Where does it stop?

In this light (ha!), I had better stop now - I have already pushed my luck with the power supply, which (amazingly) actually lasted long enough for me to complete this column. Good luck all and remember, nine months down the line – Brian is a bad name for the baby, he could end up as another dim bulb at Eskom...

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