System errors behind Bronkhorstspruit’s violence

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Read Paddy Hartdegen’s thoughts on this matter.

Unruly, violent protestors caused havoc in the Zithobeni township in Bronkhorstspruit over the past two weeks and much as been said and written about how these protestors got completely out of hand in their demands for proper services after the Tshwane Metropolitan Council merged with Bronkhorstspruit.

Of course the behaviour of the residents – who took to the streets in a violent rampage, damaging property and roads and even looting shops – cannot be condoned because there is never any reason to resort to such behaviour.

However, it’s interesting that one of the primary causes for the mass anger among the communities and residents was so pathetic as to be virtually laughable and goes to the very heart of any municipal issue: proper attention to detail.

The communities of Zithobeni, Rethabiseng and Ekangala used a metering system that was developed by Conolog when Bronkhorstspruit fell under its own administration of Metsweding.

Then along came big brother, Tshwane, which decided that the old system was obsolete and installed an entirely new system that was supposedly bigger and better.  Tshwane favoured the Supreme system.

However, nobody bothered to check the compatibility of the two prepaid systems.  Had they done so they would quickly have discovered that the different systems couldn’t ‘talk’ to each other.

So when those residents with a Conolog meter ran out of electricity, they would pop off to the nearest shop or retail outlet and buy another recharge voucher. Only when they got home and put in the relevant details did they discover the voucher they’d bought didn’t work on the older system.

It turns out that residents were supposed to register their details on the new Supreme system but nobody had bothered to tell them that.  They’d also not bothered to tell the retailers about the change so basically, everybody was in the dark,  thanks to Tshwane.

That’s enough to make everybody furious.

The Supreme vouchers were useless on the Conolog system and any existing electricity on the Conolog system was not recorded on the Supreme system.  It was the day that prepaid electricity died.

I don’t know about you but I would be pretty  furious if I had spent money recharging my meter and not been told about the changes;  I’d be doubly angry if I had been sold a voucher that was useless and had to wait – probably for several days – to get my money back and to get my service reconnected.

When you are unemployed and every cent you spend is really precious you can imagine the degree of fury that was unleashed among residents.

What the Tshwane Council has now done is to allow all residents a period of grace lasting 45 days to register on the new Supreme system.  They can also buy electricity immediately to recharge the system that will now work.  There is no specific detail on any credits that might go back to residents for the blunders by the council but perhaps those will come through too.

However, Tshwane has decided that it will get tough in various other ways on the citizens of its city.  So if residents in any of the Bronkhorstspruit suburbs (or any Tshwane suburbs for that matter) owe money for services refuse removal, water or rates then they will not be allowed to buy or use electricity until these amounts are paid in full or a suitable arrangement has been made.

Basically, what the council is doing is demanding that people pay for all services used and not just electricity. Perhaps these regulations are long overdue because there is widespread non-payment for water and refuse removal services among hundreds of thousands of homeowners everywhere.

Pre-paid electricity used to simple:  When you meter ran out of power you’d buy a recharge voucher from Checkers, Spar or Pick ‘n Pay, refill you meter and switch on your lights.

Now, Tshwane is saying if you owe money for other services you will not be able to buy electricity at all – or rather if you do buy it, it will not work – until all outstanding payments have been settled.

It’s what some might call legislated extortion – but perhaps it’s necessary.

Can you imagine what sort of outburst this will prompt when the 45-day moratorium has passed on 20 March and the lights go off again because water bills are unpaid?

Tshwane’s pre-paid metering saga underlines the fundamental practice – used so widely when switching from one computerised system to another – of keeping two systems running in tandem until all the glitches and system errors have been ironed out completely.

Something that obviously didn’t occur to the software developers, planners and other ‘thinkers’ within Tshwane’s Council.  How difficult can it be to check that systems are compatible before shutting down one and starting up a new one?  How difficult can it be to let everybody know, well ahead of time, that the systems have changed?

And it is this simple oversight that prompted such angry, violent protests that led to the torching of a library, clinic and town hall. Of course how the protestors thought that burning down these public facilities would aid their case is beyond me? Perhaps anger stops people from thinking.

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.