A Typical Day in South Africa (Take Two)

This is the difference between March of 2010, when we were “fresh off the boat,” so to speak, and January 2011, by which time we have become quite settled in Johannesburg.

Back then I was occasionally foaming at the mouth about the stupidities and injustices of South African government agencies, such as Telkom (much of which you can read about under the “Bureaucracy” tab). Today I’m more prone to breaking out into uncontrolled laughter, such as I did this morning. Nothing has changed, of course, but that is precisely why it is so funny.

Yesterday afternoon, what was bound to happen, happened: We reached our monthly internet cap of 9 gigabytes. This has been a problem before (and I strongly encourage all new expats to opt for MWEB or something with uncapped internet instead of Telkom), but usually on the 29th of the month, when we could wait it out. But today is the 19th! We used to blame our internet troubles on Zax’s xBox Live addiction, but that subscription has actually run out this month. The culprit must be just our regular internet usage, a couple of online videos here and there, and maybe to some not so small extent this blog! I used to monitor it more closely so I could see it coming, but somehow the Telkom “usage reports” have not been working for some time.

No problem, I thought, I will just use the “purchase top-up” option on the Telkom website. Now you might think that there is irony in purchasing more internet usage over the internet when you’ve just run out of internet usage, but that is actually not a problem. After all, we are progressive here in South Africa! Your usage is divided into local usage and all the rest (with pretty much everything we do falling under “all the rest” even if we access a local website) but the local usage has no cap and does allow you to access the Telkom website. So far so good. But of course it didn’t end there. I tried to purchase 2 more gig using my credit card, to no avail. I finally figured out that it wouldn’t work, because South African banks recently instituted a new security scheme, whereby you have to first register for an additional password for whenever you use your credit card online. While I laud this precaution (having been an almost-victim of financial fraud to the tune of 10,000 Euros – see my Postal Service story in that regard), it is a big headache for the simple reason that it doesn’t work. At least not for me. I’ve already been through endless sessions with my bank to try and get this password set up, without success.

What do you do when you can’t do it online? You use the phone. So I called Telkom’s internet help desk (0800 500 200 if you’re interested). However, that of course is not staffed after 7:00 pm, so we all had to wait until today. When I called them this morning, I was happy to get through to a representative without a long wait. He asked me all my personal details to make sure I was the person I claimed, and then informed me that I couldn’t simply top up our account over the phone, I would have to create a temporary account instead, with a new password and everything. Sure, a hassle, but also maybe with its advantages, as I could keep this new account a secret in our family and make the 2 gig last until the end of the month without having to share. See how devious I have become? But alas, here comes the inevitable, and I admit I should have seen this coming: I would not, I was informed politely, be able to actually order up this new account, since I AM NOT THE ACCOUNT HOLDER! Of course. Such a case of Déjà vu. Noisette is the account holder and the only person with the power to actually deal with Telkom. The same as last March, and the fact that I haven’t been able to drag him to the Telkom store to remedy the situation in almost a year of living here is what makes me sit back and laugh.

Such a little item on your to-do list (or arguably one that shouldn’t be on there in the first place) becomes such a chore here in South Africa!

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