James Clarke Masthead
January 18 2012 at 11:44

Johannesburg Water Department

The Boss.

Dear Sir,

I hope you don’t mind my using your first name but I thought you’d be interested to know that last month I celebrated, quietly at home, the second anniversary of the Great Flood in Fourways Gardens. We are at the extreme north of town where things start falling off the edge.

Last month marked the second anniversary of my receiving from your department a bill for having used, overnight, 5 million litres of water.

I have just picked up my 25th invoice for the R75 000 which you say I owe for the water I used that one day in November 2009.

It was the day when my water meter jumped from 2 999 999 litres to 8 000 000 litres.

At least, that’s how your meter reader read it. In fact, if he’d looked harder, he would have seen that the meter had jumped from 2 999 999 to 3 000 000 as meters are trained to do. That first digit was a 3 and it is still a 3. I’ve never seen a 3 looking so much like a 3 in my life.

It will remain 3 for the many few years until I have used up another million litres.

Then my pocket calculator says it will read 4 million and your team of mathematicians will then spend the next few years wondering how this can be.

When, on December 15, 2009, I phoned your office, they said I “obviously” had a leak and I must pay up or they’d cut me off.

The official, anxious to quit work, for it was a public holiday the next day, said if I could obtain a plumber’s certificate stating that I did not have a leak then the municipality might reconsider the R75 000. I did – at a cost of R280 – and there was no leak.

I explained to one of your water babies that a 5 million-litre leak would have left in its wake certain clues – yellow-billed ducks for instance; yachts. And my neighbours, who live several metres below my wall, would have said something about rising damp.

I sent a facsimile of the plumber’s certificate plus his bill to you but received no response.

I wrote again and copied it to the council’s chief accountant. No reply. I then wrote – registered mail this time – to you, the chief accountant and the mayor. Again, not a gurgle.

Winter set in and the interest piled up. I tried phoning again and again. It became a three-ulcer process which is hard on a two- ulcer man like me.

Eventually I spoke to a Mr Peacock who was very understanding but resigned a week later.

Winter turned to spring and I found a Mr Wright, who said he would fix it. Summer came, then autumn and then winter. The invoices continued to arrive.

During the second winter I caught sight of a meter reader reading my meter.

“Do you see what it reads?” I asked. He agreed it was a 3 and took a photograph of it with his wonder phone. But winter went and spring came. And now it’s summer.

I realise you must have other duties. I am sure in fact that you must be the same fellow who is in charge of traffic lights for I detect your touch. I also realise that the municipality, on its shoe-string budget of R30 billion, must have problems counting.


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