Scary stories from a lovely place
Living in Joburg brings with it much necessary time spent dealing with bureacracy, both in trying to get here, and then trying to survive. Besides having always wanted to use the bureacrockcracy pun I have spent a good chunk of the last few months dealing with bureacracy in South Africa, Australia and Ireland and I have concluded that it is actually a crock. Here’s what I have been doing lately…
Soon after arriving home from snowy England (where many things didn’t work as well as I had been badgered to believe they would) Stephen received SMS’ from an ex-housemate telling him that the City of Joburg were after him for not paying his rates bill for 2 years. I am the paper bill (those that come in the mail) payer in our household so I know that I have indeed beeen paying the COJ bills. I dutifully went to the City of Joburg office on the top of Brixton hill (another little treat of this suburb) and enquired as to what was going on. So apparently there are two rates accounts for our address, one for water and electricity (which we have been getting) and a second for council rates, bin collection and sewerage which has been going to whoever lives at ’99 Brixton’ which is clearly not an address. The kind lady there told me that I would have to go to the COJ office in town because that’s where the lawyers were. To be exact the town COJ office is actually in Braamfontein so it’s pretty cruisy as opposed to a true downtown trip. I went on a Friday and waited, waited, waited before being taken upstairs to see the lawyer who was handling my case. Sylvia wasn’t in her office so I was told to wait, wait, wait outside the door, which I proceeded to do. Friday’s in Joburg are officially World Cup hype day so the staff milling around were dressed in various forms of WC sartorial propaganda and didn’t seem to be doing too much work at all. Eventually one kind lady asked me what I was doing there and then told me she would go and find Sylvia. At her belated return she told me that Sylvia had gone home and I must come back another day. Thanks very much. So I came back and enquired at the reception desk for Sylvia who phoned her, only to find out that she wasn’t in again. So I went around to the waiting area and waited, waited, waited to speak to another legal person who told me that Sylvia was in her office. So I finally met my nemesis, the young and pretty Sylvia. I wanted to dispute the amount of interest because I didn’t think I should have to pay it, since the bill was being sent to some address that is clearly not an address, rather than to the address that the residential rates was for. Armed for a fight, Sylvia told me that the amount of interest was R71 and I choked a little and replied that yes I did want to contest that. She then outlined a lengthy and complicated process for dispute and I thanked her and promised to send my objection the next day. We really wanted to fight the R71 (especially when Stephen concluded it would be 2 pints of Peroni) but as happens with bureacracy our fight dissipated and we have now settled the account. COJ closed. (Interestingly this week, the first week that the COJ bill has ever been settled, our bin wasn’t collected?)
As I have outlined in a previous post, my life of late has been peppered by lengthy visits to home affairs. A couple of weeks ago, I made my last one. I was supposed to have an interview for permanent residency in early March and I went to home affairs a couple of days before to check that I had all the correct paperwork. There was no queue (joy!) but the joy soon expired when I was told that I had to be married for 5 years to claim residency as a spouse. Now of course I had previously enquired about that, but had been told that because I was married to a resident and not a citizen the 5 years was null and void. I argued a little with the helpful man who then proceeded to call his supervisor, a rather portly older woman, who then proceeded to call out all possible staff and compared handwriting samples to find out who had given me the bum steer. It was becoming far too much of a spectacle so I declared that it was fine and left before all the multi-lingual obfuscating became too serious. I do after all have my new temporary residence permit, so although I can’t work or study or pay tax, I can stay.
Related to my many home affairs visits have been many trips to Pretoria to the Police Criminal Records centre, as well as being fingerprinted at Brixton Police station. Trips to Pretoria have involved much wasted time sitting in traffic on the N1 north (really who would live in Midrand?), getting sunburnt and dehydrated at the Allendale offramp, blowing my tyre near Woodmead and having to drive 5km to a petrol station with a perturbing banging sound (at first I thought it was a helicopter overhead) because I didn’t want to risk getting murdered if I pulled over to change it myself (actually the main reason is that it was pouring with rain and I had straightened my hair, but I add the danger reason for Stephen’s benefit), getting lost in Pretoria CBD and having to use ATM’s in full view of unscrupulous looking young men. But, in the end, I got my police clearance certificate, I’m not wanted for any crimes in South Africa after all. Phew.
If I had have been murdered on the N1 north I no doubt couldn’t have expected any help from my medical aid, Bonitas who really do not deserve their awards for customer service. Despite the large chunk of money Stephen pays them every month to assure we get picked up by an ambulance in an emergency-relevant period of time (less then 30 minutes please if I’m bleeding to death) they don’t actually give us a great deal. Sure they have paid for a few doctors visits and some drugs, but they owe me money for many unprocessed claims that I am continually enquiring as to their progress. And sure they will pay for me to have my baby at a natural birthing centre with a midwife, instead of in a scary hospital and they will even pay if it’s an emergency caesarean (R20 000 for caesarean, R9 800 for natural delivery) but none of that will make up for the wasted hours I have spent arguing with them, faxing/posting/emailing my claims to some empty room full of unprocessed medical bills and being told different information every time I speak to them.
At the moment I am delaying a trip downtown to Loveday St to the Licensing department to change my postal address so I can register my car next month. But that will be next in my bureacracy portfolio. Besides this there are endless conversations with Telkom about random service glitches and queuing at the bank and tax office on behalf of my busy husband.
Finally, in the spirit of equity, I thought I also should complain about some bureacrockracy I recently experienced in Ireland, England and Australia, otherwise I will perpetuate the stereotype of complaining about Africa, and that’s just not fair. In December while visiting Stephen’s family in England and Ireland I was expecting dream-like efficiency of administration. I had been led to believe this would be the norm by my English friends living in South Africa, as they bemoaned the various difficulties they were having here. But it wasn’t the case. On the way we stopped in Tripoli, Libya which was a little like visiting an airport in the 1970’s, but otherwise, fine. Gatwick Airport on the other hand was a disaster and much worse than OR Tambo has ever been during the construction work of the last 2 years (took me 2.5 hours to get through customs and I had to watch a security woman shouting at another lady whose baby was crying, presumably because she was sick of waiting and was expressing what we were all feeling), a little snow stopped the whole country’s public transport system, the trains in the north of England were dirty and confusing for a foreigner and the newspapers were full of stories of murder, molestation and corruption in the government. While I made use of the free and good public hospitals in Ireland (2 ultrasounds in 2 days which would have cost R1600 here) I have now received bills from Wexford hospital in the manner of 100 Euro. I rang to complain but struggled to get angry at the sweet woman because her accent was so quaint (the Irish really scored with that accent).
I have little to complain about Australia. Recently I rang Centrelink and the Tax office and enjoyed not only that they could understand my accent, but that they had the same one! Maybe Australia is Paradise?