Sunday, 1 July 2007

Next question? Eskom asks it like it is

Tony Park, the Australian author who writes tales set in Africa (his fourth book comes out next month and a fifth is in progress), and a regular visitor to Salmagundi, recently asked me in an email if the public services strike was still going on. A gearbox for his beloved Land Rover, which had to be imported to South Africa on his and his wife Nicola's last trip to the subcontinent, is still sitting in chookie, awaiting customs clearance. ‘The strike was in its second week when we were in South Africa, and that was weeks ago now,’ he wrote.

I gave him the bad news, then mentioned that workers from Eskom, our national electricity supplier, are also threatening to strike. (Eskom has in turn threatened to fire them if they do.) And I mentioned that Eskom hasn’t been, um, fully operational for some time now.

Coincidentally, the Sunday Times’s Chris Barron interviewed Eskom CEO Jacob Maroga this week, and if Mr Maroga’s responses are anything to go by, Eskom clearly believes in leaving its customers sitting in the dark.

Some examples:

Barron asked Maroga, regarding the recent persistent power failures on the East Rand, ‘Is what we’re seeing a symptom of neglect? Neglecting to maintain the infrastructure?’

Maroga’s response: ‘Next question?’

Regarding Alcan, the Canadian company that will produce aluminium in the Eastern Cape, Barron asked if it’s true that they will pay significantly less than local businesses, and if so, if this lower rate will be subsidised.

Maroga showed hair-raisingly cynical political perspicacity by saying quite a bit yet still managing not to give a straight answer to a straight question. (‘There is a formula which was approved by the regulator’; ‘It’s a long-term contract which has been approved by the regulator’; ‘We don’t disclose customer information’). When pushed by Barron, his response was: ‘Next question?’

Barron: ‘And now you want local consumers to pay an extra 18%. Why should they?’

Maroga: ‘We’re building new infrastructure to bring capacity to deal with the consumption of electricity.’ (Mr Maroga has apparently recently swallowed a political phrasebook.)

My three favourite Q-and-As, however, were these:

Barron: ‘Is it fair to ask consumers to pay 18% more when they’re getting such an unreliable service?’

Maroga: ‘Which unreliable service?’ (You know that little cartoon lightbulb that switches on above someone’s head when they have an excellently original thought? Evidently, Mr Maroga’s wasn’t getting any electricity.)

Barron (presumably talking slowly and clearly, so Mr Maroga could understand): ‘There’ve been power failures all over the country.’

Maroga: ‘All over the country? That’s an overstatement.’

Barron: ‘The bottom line is that it’s an unreliable service and we’re being asked to pay 18% more for it.’

Maroga (wait for it…): ‘Have you got any other questions, because we’re not getting very far with this?’

Mr Maroga, who has obviously been living under a stone somewhere (albeit one with a regular and reliable electricity supply), owes his customers answers. Barron made him squirm like an electric eel … which is more power than many of us can rely on these days.

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Bongi said...

one good thing about their shoddy service is that we probably won't notice a difference when they do strike.

Bongi said...

i actually also wrote about the strike but as it pertains to the medical services in the country at

but the strike will apparently end now, so irrelevant now.

tonypark said...

Excellent post.

A new word: "chookie" (though how I'll use it in the books, I don't know), and a new business lead for my media training course.

Mister whatshisname looks like he could use a bit of spin-doctoring. I try to tell people that 'no comment' is seen as an admission of guilt, but 'next question' - that is superb.

Muriel said...

I think 'chookie' perhaps should be spelled 'tjoekie' (it means jail). Anyone out there know?

angel said...

mwaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahaaaa.... what a wanker!!!
fantabulous post!