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#PoeticLicence: The City of Joburg’s mission to collect unpaid bills has lost its sense of proportionality

Author and poet Rabbie Serumula. File image.

Author and poet Rabbie Serumula. File image.

Published Sep 17, 2023

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Johannesburg - In the sprawling labyrinth of Johannesburg, where the towering skyscrapers of Sandton rub shoulders with the shanties of Alexandra, a storm is brewing.

The City of Joburg had made a bold promise to its citizens – it vowed to embark on a cunning campaign to collect unpaid electricity, water, rates and services from indebted ratepayers. And it chose an unusual battleground for the ambitious mission – the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) roadblocks. It was a move that was, in many ways, akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Picture this: You’re lying in a public hospital bed, the sterile white walls bearing witness to your vulnerability. You’re weak, your body is weary, and the beeping machines around you serve as a constant reminder of your fragility. It’s in this moment that the storm unleashed by the City of Joburg would descend upon you.

A nurse, clad in the uniform of mercy, enters your room. Her presence offers a glimmer of solace in your otherwise stark surroundings. You look at her, hoping for a warm smile or a reassuring word, but something is amiss. With her is a city official, armed with a laptop and a list – a list that contains the names of residents who are in arrears.

This is not the setting one would expect for a financial reckoning. You’re not in a boardroom or a municipal office; you’re in a hospital bed, fighting for your health. The place where healing should be paramount has become a stage for debt collection. It’s like a hospital sending in a team of doctors and nurses to treat a patient who needs only a simple check-up – it's excessive and not tailored to the specific needs of the situation.

The City of Joburg’s well-intentioned mission to collect unpaid bills has lost its sense of proportionality. The city has chosen to wield a sledgehammer when a gentle touch would suffice.

As the nurse tends to your medical needs, the official opens their laptop. They’re ready to discuss your financial obligations right here, right now. It’s a stark reminder that, in the eyes of the city, your health and your debts are intertwined. They’ve brought the bureaucracy of bill collection to your bedside, without pausing to consider the emotional toll it might take.

You can’t help but feel like a pawn in a larger game – a game where the city’s promise to its citizens takes precedence over individual well-being. It’s an uncomfortable sensation, lying there on the hospital bed, with your vulnerability laid bare, while a City official navigates spreadsheets and demands payments.

But the absurdity of the situation doesn’t stop there.

Beyond the hospital walls, at JMPD roadblocks scattered throughout the city, similar scenes are unfolding. Motorists pulled over for routine checks find themselves facing not just traffic violations but also debt collectors in uniform. It’s a nightmare where the lines between law enforcement and debt collection blur into an unsettling dystopia.

The Saturday Star