South African Bureaucracy Driving You Nuts

During that first year in South Africa, all that kept me sane at times was the knowledge that yet another crazy bureaucratic errand would make a good blog post. I’d be standing in the Telkom office clutching pages of my phone bill, wanting to hit the lady at the counter over the head – I really am not a violent person – because she was so intractable and obdurate about fixing an obvious error, and there’d be a little angel sitting on my right shoulder, tugging at my arm and whispering: Wait till you can tell your readers about this. They won’t bloody believe this.

Yes, by then I had mentally absorbed the word “bloody” into my vocabulary. You can’t live without it in South Africa, and it makes for an excellent companion when standing in line in a Telkom office.

The telephone in the Telkom office that I was told I’d have to use if I wanted to make a complaint. Instead of being able to talk to any of the clerks sitting behind the counter twiddling their thumbs.

I’m glad to know that my readers indeed must have enjoyed such blog posts. Because I am now one of those readers.

Sitting in my lovely centrally-heated house in America, where the trash gets picked up rain or shine with unflinching regularity, where I can bank on every traffic light working like a charm each morning on the way to school, and where I can start and stop utility service on a whim with just a single phone call if I so desire, I chuckle with utter delight when reading about the misadventures of yet another American expat in South Africa in an imbroglio with Home Affairs. Or a crazy homeowner.

My Thoughts from the Deep End recently wrote a blog post about how the sale of a home often leaves poor expat tenants in the middle of a “War of the Roses”-like dispute over piddly stuff like potted plants and movable kitchen islands. I can totally relate. I don’t know what it is about South African home owners and what kinds of slights they must have endured in their previous lives to become quite so paranoid and unreasonable. It took us three tries to rent a home, because the previous two landlords inexplicably changed their minds after the leases were agreed to. No can do, don’t want to rent, nope, we are now selling the house. The owners of the third house ended up being lovely people, but not before negotiating tooth and nail over the price of our refrigerator and dishwasher, which in comparison to the corporate lease they gained was peanuts.

But my favorite paragraph in the above blog post was the part where, after an already lengthy battle with Home Affairs depicted in numerous previous blog posts, the husband’s visa was finally renewed, but not the wife’s. This by the way is something that seems to occur pretty much every single time an expat renews a South African visa if I go by my friends’ stories. The wife’s visa was not renewed because instead of listing her as the dependent WIFE they made her into a dependent DAUGHTER, a situation which then needed to be rectified and would take until “next week.”

Har har – has ANYTHING ever happened at Home Affairs next week? Fittingly, the wife’s comment about this on her blog:

“Mr. Deep [the husband] wonders if it might be easier (and faster) if he and I get divorced and then he adopts me as his daughter so that the visa will be accurate.”

Indeed. You do wonder if that might well be faster.

But wait… then the husband/father will have to apply for an unabridged birth certificate for the wife/daughter and make sure he always travels with that and a notarized affidavit from both parents… Uh-oh, who’d sign the affidavit for the mother’s side – the wife? On second thought, It might be better not to veer into that territory.

Home Affairs, curiously, was never my big nemesis while living in South Africa. We got lucky and never had any issues, neither the first time we applied for visas nor for the renewals. Well – if you don’t count having to get police certificates from the U.S., Germany, and Singapore about our non-criminal conduct, chest x-rays for the entire family, doctor’s affidavits that none of us were crazy, plus fill out a plethora of forms. Everyone wanting to live or work in South Africa has to go through that. The only incident worthy of a blog post was when we had to go to the local police station to get our fingerprints taken.

My big nemesis, as you may recall, was Eskom. Runners-up were the City of Joburg and Telkom. My first blog post on the matter, Welcome to Africa! features all three. Eskom pretty much preoccupied me throughout most of our three years as you can see just by reading the blog post titles: Eskom: Adding Insult to Injury, Eskom: Absolute Power to Turn Off Your Power Whenever They so Choose, Eskom: How Much More Absurd can it Get?, My Truce with Eskom, Time to Put My Escom File in a Drawer, and my all-time favorite I’m Having an Affair.

Oh, and the Piki Tup saga of our stolen trash bin. Or not stolen, just misplaced it turns out. Again, the titles alone speak for that train of events: Security and Crime (when I thought it was stolen – the real title should have been “You GOTTA label your trash can in South Africa”, The Dustbin Saga Continues…, Finally – a New Trash Can!, and Dustbin Saga – Still Going Strong!, in which it turns out the “new” trash can was just the old one returned, which we should have known, because it’s unreasonable to think that in South Africa your trash company would send you a new one within just a few weeks instead of months.

Back to my sedate – and, I admit, rather boring – life in American suburbia. Luckily, every once in a while stuff happens here too that is blog-worthy.

It turns out we have our very own Eskom-in-new-clothing called Comcast. (Maybe we should all be wary of the syllable “com” in a utility.) You can read up on the evil antics of Comcast in Welcome to Af-merica. The reason I have not written anything else about it is that dealing with Comcast lacks the African charm of dealing with Eskom. Eskom was incompetent, Comcast is bad on purpose, I’m sure of it. I have never met such disdain for the customer in any other American company.

While my dealings with Comcast are more depressing than funny, some really funny stuff does happen here in our sleepy and otherwise unremarkable town. Only in America is by far the funniest thing that’s happened to me here, and made for one of my better “crazy people” stories. Just looking at the picture I staged to reflect what happened that day should get you curious (and no, no one shot the kitty):

And the topic of First World Problems in our privileged bubble always makes for entertaining stories, as in Coyote Sightings, Ungainly Outhouses, and Other First World Problems.

With this, my friends, I shall leave you for the day. I hope you get a good laugh out of one of these stories.

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