“Just call me The Light Man Who Cometh,” said the voice at the other end of the phone.
I had got through to Eskom and asked to speak to someone who could explain how the parastatal spent R36 million on staff parties, or “family fun days” as they called them.
“Your name’s a helluva mouthful, if you don’t mind my saying so,” I said.
“TLM for short will do,” said TLM.
“I’m told that R36m would keep 1 million poor households in free basic electricity for a month,” I said.
“That’s the way the cookie crumbles, to use a party analogy,” said TLM.
“Eskom proposes to raise electricity tariffs by nearly 100 percent over the next five years,” I pointed out. “How can you possibly justify spending so much on parties?”
“Look, you don’t understand,” explained TLM. “Last year we paid out R54m in bonuses to board and management members, who had done such a good job in extracting so much more money from consumers. Our rank-and-file staff felt a little left out.
“So, to reward them, we arranged a series of seven family fun days in different centres. Their morale is now terribly high, to the extent that they don’t mind plunging whole cities into darkness if they have to.”
“Someone’s got to do it. It’s the only way to punish people who waste money on electricity.”
“What about people who waste public money on parties?”
“R4m is not a lot for one party. You try entertaining 12 000 people, as we did in Gauteng, on that amount. It was almost like the fishes and loaves. The public should be grateful we were so stingy with their money.”
“You also spent R3m on a Cape Town party, R10m at two parties in Witbank and R5m at Lephalale, wherever that is.”
“You are forgetting Durban. We |only spent R1m on the Durban party, including bingo. That’s really cutting our party budget to the bone.
“I just hope our Durban staff realise how much we appreciate their sacrifice. If they leave Durban in the light when we want it dark, or vice versa, I can hardly blame them. That’s why we need more parties.”
“It’s the only way we can thank our staff for their loyalty and dedication. They at least realise that unless we raise electricity tariffs, there may be no more parties.
“That is why, as we speak, they are hard at work calculating the maximum increases they can impose. They really love their family fun days.”
“I see the main contract for R35m of the parties was awarded to a company called Blackmagic Communications, who tried to keep their involvement secret.”
“You are right. They would have preferred to keep it dark, as it were. They feel a bit bashful about making so many of our staff so happy at so little cost.”
“You all seemed to keep the minister of public enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, in the dark as well. He is only now meeting officials of his department to find out more about all this parastatal partying.”
“That’s not a problem. Once we explain the need to have parties he’ll see the light, unless we turn it off.”