Estimating your suffering

Hendri Pelser

Hendri Pelser

Except for one day a month, living in Joburg is pretty decent.

That is, except for bill day.

My hair stands on end every time a new bill from the great Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality arrives. Immediately, I try to work out how many phone calls it will take to sort out the monthly mess.

“How many hours will it take this time?” the little voice in my head screams out in panic.

I know a couple of well-off individuals who would rather invest in property shares than in bricks and mortar. They would rather rent than have to deal with Joburg on a monthly basis.

That pretty much says it all.

A few years ago – at the height of the great billing crisis – it took a massive amount of effort to have my affairs with Joburg straightened out. But then, I made a mistake, a grave mistake indeed – I thought it was all over.

How very wrong this assumption was. How on earth could one expect that a municipality, which took three years to fix a street light in front of my house, could stay on top of its billing game?

The latest round of “irritate the homeowner’ (the favourite game of our beloved municipal staff) started innocently enough when Johannesburg offered to install a new “smart” electricity meter.

“It will automatically send the reading to the council,” the installer told me with a big smile.

It sounded almost too good to be true. No more monthly phone calls to give meter readings.

No more fighting with call centre staff.

And, it turned out it really was too good to be true.

A new meter starts at zero. The old meter did not stop at zero.

Johannesburg’s finest could not comprehend this reality. So, all of a sudden we are back to “estimated readings”.

Estimated is not quite correct. More like fantastical flights of fancy.

But because the electricity reading did not make sense, it seems as if the water readings needed some estimation as well.

A while back, I added all the little “steps” they use to bill you, together. It came to 66 kilolitres. We had only used 60 that month. The call centre operator politely pointed out that the first six kilolitres a month are free, so we had only been billed for 60.

My best attempts at reason came to naught.

Months down the line we are in that dreaded “reversal of interim charges” situation where Joburg’s estimates have run wild on the invoice. I am not sure if SAP ever envisaged Joburg staff when the fancy new billing system was designed.

If you have ever spent as much time as I have in a queue at one of Joburg’s offices, you will understand that logic is not the answer.

One plus one – in the world of municipal bureaucracy – will never, ever equal two.

The answer is usually estimated to be around 2.73564.


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