ESCOM? Who needs them…?

biodigester-turns-cow-manure-into-methane-gas“Look,” she said, “it’s easy. All you have to do is to produce gas. The rest should be child’s play.”

The exasperating thing about Gertruida is that she has this way of simplifying things to the point where you expect events to follow a logical course – which often happens…and sometimes not. Add a couple of shots of peach brandy, yet another power blackout and a candle, and you find yourself following her instructions as if you had no choice.

The group at the bar had been discussing the dismal performance of ESCOM, the state-run, bumbling organisation that is supposed to supply the country with electricity. Like the SABC and South African Airways, ESCOM has managed to run itself  into shambles lately. Oh, these companies did hang on for a few years due to the efficiency of management in the bad old days of the previous government, but then democracy came along and everything went to pieces. Complete mismanagement has resulted in undiluted chaos, with everybody blaming everybody else. Like Gertruida said: it would have been funny if it wasn’t such a tragedy.

Still, they had to do something. Drinking warm beer in the dark was just not acceptable.

busa1“We must generate our own electricity, that’s all. We have no other option.” That’s what Gertruida had said. Then, reminding them that you only needed a generator (the derelict one behind Sammie’s shop), she suggested isolating them from the national grid (‘That huge switch at the last pole. Just flick it to the ‘Off’ position’). Coupling Oudoom’s car’s one driveshaft (he has the smallest vehicle in town, a 1969 Mini) to the generator, and connecting to their own Rolbos Electric And Light Company. RealCo, she said, would show the rest of the country how it should be done.

“Think of the money we’ll save , guys. In 2010 ESCOM’s salary bill hovered around 14,7 billion Rand – and one can only speculate what it is now. Think about it: those ridiculous bonuses to the so-called executives, the costs of new power stations – Madupi will come on line R150 billion  later – and heaven knows how much they have to spend on infrastructure….well, if the country could save all that money, we’d be able to afford our president. Now, that would be something.”

“That’s nice, Gertruida. But that Mini needs petrol to run, and you know how expensive that is.”

digesterGertruida smiled while she shook her head. “No, there’s a company in Oklahoma with the solution to that one. They call it CRAP Caloric Recovery Anaerobic Process. It’s simple, really. You take a drum, fill it halfway with cattle or sheep manure, add water and let mother nature do the rest. You then produce a very combustible fuel in the form of methane gas and when the process has run it’s course, you’re left with a drum full of fertilizer.

“I’m sure Vetfaan will only have to remove the carburettor from the Mini’s engine, connect up a piece of hose from the gas collecting bag to the engine, and that’s it! We have an engine running off cow pooh, and that drives our generator – and no more  blackouts!”

***

It sounded so simple.

It might have worked, too, if Servaas hadn’t put a match to his pipe while listening to the bubbles rising to the top of the sludge inside the drum.

***

One must give credit where credit is due. Gertruida says a good storyteller leaves the graphics to the mind of the listener.

“Just give the audience enough of a skeleton to hang the details on – and make the listener smile at the pictures created by the imagination. No matter how hard a narrator tries, he can’t beat those images. A picture, especially a mental one, is worth more than a thousand words…”

Nowadays, the patrons in the bar are quite content to enjoy the intimate atmosphere created by a few candles. They poke fun at Gertruida, who says it’s not her fault that Servaas has been banned to the veranda. He should have known better. Anyway, according to her, he should be able to join them inside again next week.

Provided he continues showering three times a day, that is.

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