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Monday Sep 10, 2012

KZN pensioner attacked after council electricity bungle

The three sweetest words in the English language for Anne Carkeek, 78, are "the power's on".

After enduring a torrid seven-week ordeal involving no electricity, bureaucratic red tape and a vicious attack by intruders, Carkeek celebrated the return of light to her home yesterday - thanks to Sunday Tribune's CityWatch.

The septuagenarian is no pushover, but even she could not win against the combined might of eThekwini Electricity and its subsidiary, Revenue Protection.

Carkeek is more active than most women half her age and still puts in a hard day's work on her farm in rural Waterfall. The animal lover breeds boxers and Belgian griffons, runs a small kennelling operation and keeps miniature ponies for children's birthday parties. But even she despaired when the eThekwini Electricity Department cut power to her home, despite her not being in arrears on her electricity account by even one cent, and would not listen to reason as the weeks passed.

The utility is claiming that she owes them more than R500 000 in rates arrears - even though her property was only added to the rates roll in 2011.

When City Watch went through her billing accounts we discovered that Carkeek had been left at the mercy of darkness and criminals over an unpaid account in someone else's name, for a farm in Georgedale. Repeated attempts by her legal adviser to get the mess sorted out were not successful. The powers that be insist she is liable for a complete stranger's debts.

Carkeek's late husband bought the 10ha farm in 1978, and it was left to her on his death in 1991. At that time the area was not on the rates base. After a 1998 assessment, rates became payable on certain properties in the area, but she did not receive an account until this time last year, when a member of the valuation team visited the farm. He informed Carkeek that her monthly premium was R301, which later increased to R435. She paid up religiously, only to find to her horror and without warning that she was "in arrears" for more than half a million, for a property she had never laid eyes on.

On July 12, Carkeek received a visit from an eightstrong group of men comprised of contract workers and armed security guards. They removed the high-mast electricity transformer on the property, and darkness descended. Waterfall smallholdings are currently at the mercy of robbers, and Carkeek had installed electrified fencing around her home.

With no power, it was a simple matter for her attackers to snip a few strands of wire, hurl a rock through a window and confront her in her home, as they did on July 22.

Carkeek rushed into her hallway at the sound of breaking glass, carrying a small gas lamp. It was smashed in her face and she was beaten and kicked to the ground. When the seriously injured woman was found she had broken bones in both hands, a cracked skull and multiple lacerations to her face. Two months down the line she walks with a limp and still wears a metal brace on the fingers of one hand.

She is the mistress of understatement when she talks about her plight: "It's quite tricky when I finish work in the evening and come home to a pitch-dark house. I miss having a bath and boiling a kettle."

Carkeek's plight was brought to the attention of CityWatch by fellow Waterfall resident, wheelchair-bound Barry Edy. "This is the most shocking and blatant abuse of the elderly I have ever encountered," he said. "Anne is a productive member of the community who has never owed anyone a penny. She could have died in the attack, because some bureaucrat can't be bothered to sort out a simple billing error. Where is the justice in it? How long must she wait before someone has a lightbulb moment and does the right thing?"

According to Carkeek, electrical contractors came to her home last Saturday to reconnect the power, but left saying it was a bigger job than they'd realised. They were back briefly on Monday, but encountered some other problem, and promised to return the next day. By Friday they had not materialised.

CityWatch left telephone and e-mail messages for Sandile Maphumulo, head of electricity for eThekwini, on Thursday and Friday. On Friday we managed to track him down, and had a brief conversation. Maphumulo said he had received the messages, and "deputised operatives and customer services to look into the issue and advise me". He undertook to provide feedback by midday.

Later in the afternoon CityWatch learned that the matter had been handed to Randall Wagner, senior manager in the customer services department. Numerous phone calls later, Wagner said the matter was "very complicated".

Wagner said the coming byelections were occupying a lot of manpower in the department, and the disconnection and reconnection of electricity was outsourced to the Revenue Protection department.

"Council consolidated electricity and rates payments some time ago because some people pay the one but not the other. When the system detects rates non-payment, it issues a directive to terminate the power supply," he explained.

Randall said that normally a "socket disconnection" was done at a resident's electricity meter, but "according to the report from Revenue Protection, there was no one at the property, and there were dogs, so they had to remove the entire transformer".

Carkeek was, in fact, present at the time of the power disconnection, and her dogs are unaggressive breeds and superbly trained. Finally, Randall agreed to arrange for the original team that disconnected Carkeek's supply to return at once to reconnect it.

Yesterday morning the elated homeowner was finally able to put on the kettle to make a cup of tea for the CityWatch team. She plans to get stuck in right away making a pot of her killer bitter marmalade, a treat she hasn't enjoyed in many weeks.

Sunday Tribune

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