Cape Town - The wife of world-famous author Wilbur Smith is at a loss for words after receiving a water bill for a staggering R96385.38 from the City of Cape Town and the costs of a sporadic nine-year battle with the municipality’s Water and Waste Directorate are mounting up.
Since 2008 the couple have paid more than R50 000 without disputing the bills but now they are digging in their heels.
Niso Smith told the Weekend Argus they have lived at their Bishopscourt property since 2000 and this was the “third or fourth” time that they’d received a “wild bill”.
Weekend Argus is in possession of e-mail correspondence which documents their battle with the city over the years.
“We are in a water crisis and we have done everything we can to save water because of the drought,” Smith said.
The Smiths’ latest tussle with the council began in July when they received a bill for R6702.34.
Their June bill had been R2569.17.
“That amount is more or less what we have have been paying on average for water consumption,” said Smith.
Then they received a bill of R53 151.90 for August.
Smith said she was shocked that their July account showed a credit of R26421.31 but this amount was not reflected on the August bill.
According to her, three months previously they received an unusually high bill. “I paid the bill and that’s where the credit on our account comes from,” said Smith.
“I have paid without any dispute the sum of R27427.75 on February 8 and R26421 in August for June/July.
“Also each month I paid on average R4000. I am positive that I am not cheating the city. The point is why does the city not attend to (what) they promise, and how (do) they generate invoicing? Why has the faulty meter not been replaced as they have promised?” asked Smith.
Smith showed the Weekend Argus the lengths the household goes to to be environmentally friendly and keep consumption to a minimum on the property. These include the use of borehole water for everything except showering. “The only time we open the tap is when we shower,” said Smith.
Buckets of water were placed in the bathrooms for flushing the toilets. The irrigation system for the sprawling garden is linked to the borehole.
“I even drink the borehole water and we buy water all the time so I cannot understand how our account can be so high,” said Smith.
Seven people live on the property. All the staff stressed that Smith was strict about using water responsibly.
Smith said she had been emailing the city since September but had yet to receive a reply.
One of the staff, Thembi Ndubandubane, said she had spoken to an official at the municipality who had dealt with the query 25 times.
“That lady, ‘Ntuseng’, keeps changing her story and she keeps telling us that someone is coming to replace the meter,” said Ndubandubane.
According to Smith, the city sent a replacement meter last month but it was the wrong size.
The council representative left a card with staff at the house with the same number that Smith had been calling since September.
Mayoral committee member for water and waste services Xanthea Limberg said the increase in the water bill was due to the consumption registered on the water meter.
“It must be emphasised that the city has calibrated water meters on the ground to ensure accurate readings. The increase in the amounts billed has a direct correlation to the monthly amounts measured by the calibrated water meter,” said Limberg.
She stressed that according to the city’s meter readings there had been an increase in the measured consumption from August to October.
“The credit referred to was already offset by the debits that accumulated on the account and the payments reflected on the system did not cover the full amounts billed,” said Limberg.
The city said its records did not reflect contacts with an official by the name of “Ntuseng”. The records did, however, reflect a contact from the Smiths to the call centre and the Smiths had been advised to check for leaks on the premises.