Tagged: South Africa

Hellkom like no SOE ever scorned

Herewith my experience attempting to relocate a Telkom line, Ed.

My first call to the Telkom operator from the line that is going to be relocated is unsuccessful, thus beginning a series of similar unfortunate phone calls. Each time I am asked by a machine to enter the number I am calling about and also my 13 digit ID number, only to have to repeat this information verbally to the operator, a case of pretending to be in the information age?

I explain that I am moving from Woodstock to Muizenberg. I give the exact street address and room number of the apartment, a duplex near the Beachfront. The person tells me the address is on google maps but not on the Telkom system. I need to give the ‘name’ of the apartment, she says. I tell her, I don’t know the exact name, but surely the street address and room number will suffice? She puts the phone down on me.

I arrive at my new address, and call Telkom again from a mobile phone. After about 40 minutes on hold, with an obsequious rich voice assuring me that I am being attended to, I give up, (It seems Telkom have two voices, one when soliciting services and another when demanding money — that irritating old apartheid Tannie must work when it comes to bad debts).

Next call I eventually get through after 20 minutes. Each call consumes an enormous amount from my capped mobile contract. There is no toll free relocation number to assist persons such as myself. No attempt to finesse the plight of those unfortunates wishing to relocate. I duly give the details of the apartment, including its “name”. “It’s a totally different area, says the operator, you will have to get a different number.” Fine I say, when can you relocate the service? I am told the relocation will take up to 7 working days.

Wishful thinking, after the expiry of this period, I call Telkom one again, only to be told that the relocation can take up to 21 working days not including weekends.

DAY 16, I get an SMS arranging a morning appointment, enter @yes or @no. I sms my acceptance. D-Day arrives, beginning with an early morning sms addressed to Dear Customer, ‘a Telkom technician has been dispatched to install your telephone line for your order today, your continued support is appreciated.’

By mid-morning I am beginning to not appreciate. By midday I am positively livid. Then I receive a mobile call from the “technician”, a person apparently contracted by the company to install my line. ‘I was at your address in Woodstock this morning’ he says, all Gung ho. “You weren’t there.” I explain that he has attempted to reinstall my line at my old address, and that I am in Muizenberg not Woodstock. “That’s the order I got. Its a totally different area he says.” I tell him that his company appears retarded. He puts down the phone and I don’t get an opportunity to question him as to why he didn’t call first thing in the morning. I suspect that he is simply happy to get paid a call-out fee without doing any work, a new loophole being exploited by outside contractors, that are also rife in the insurance industry.

Thus at the end of the day I receive yet another Dear Customer SMS, assuring me that a technician has been dispatched, no such luck, except for the lucky fellow who has now probably billed the company twice.

DAY 17 AM, I call Telkom, am once again asked by a machine to enter the number I am calling about and also my 13 digit ID number, only to have to repeat this information verbally to the operator, before being referred to another person for assistance. I barely have time to repeat all the information once again, before my mobile phone cuts out, victim of diminishing finances.

What strikes me is how the supposed digital sophistication of the company is turning out to be a highly complicated, analog affair, as if kilometres of copper cable would need to be hauled from one suburb to the next, merely to accommodate a simply change of address. The same obfuscation is apparent in the world of plumbing where a simple hot water geyser, basically a large kettle, is turned by a trick of the imagination, into an ancient steam engine necessitating the attendance of a team of engineers in the minds of the victims of the charlatans of the profession.

Walking on the street on the way to recharge my mobile, I notice a man working on a Telkom cable box. I ask him what he is doing, apparently he is an apprentice. Soon a technician arrives in a van. I relate my tale of woe. He asks if I have the order number. He makes a note and takes down my mobile number. He says in all likelihood the other technician won’t get paid. Will he help me?

There was a time when Telkom was a purely analog company, replete with switch boards and physical switching of calls. One could call an operator to place a collect call, while the post office handled telegrams, the antecedent of email and sms. Then the Internet and the Information Age arrived. Instead of rebooting, the company carried on providing copper cable, assured of its monopoly on telephony, a mantra of the volkscapitalisme under the old National Party, a socialist status quo which continued under the ANC, only to see wireless operators and the invariable march of progress and free enterprise, beat it to the punch in terms of sheer numbers.

South Africa has a history of late adoption of technology and, aside from cellular, Telkom is no exception. After killing off Internet dialup services the company begrudgingly offered broadband in 2005, some 20 years after the technology and the Internet had caught on in the West. For two decades the only form of Internet enjoyed by South Africans was thus to be had via Internet Cafes and exorbitant cellular contracts that really take the joy away from surfing. Then Telkom shifted into wireless and also listed on the JSE, an example of a ‘hybrid SOE’ with both government and private investors, punting hybrid technology while seeking to compete with the new wave of optical networks. As I write this, there are now various offerings of fibre cable by the three big mobile operators, (Cell C, MTN, Vodacom) and all are pretty expensive in comparison to copper. So far as price is concerned, Telkom’s offering is cheaper by yards. Technology such as G-Fast has extended the lifespan of copper.

The cost of delaying the inevitability of the Information Age, and the need for competition, has been a loss of economic activity and productivity that spans a generation. For South Africans champing at the bit, it is the ANC and SOE Minister Lynne Brown who needs to take responsibility. Like the Nat Minister who famously opposed the introduction of Television, Brown has consistently punted the anti-technology, anti-Internet views of the labour-left coalition governing the country, at the same time as claiming to be rolling out services, part of the talk left, walk right approach which has dogged the party. (Who can trust the party these days?)

While mobile networks connected consumers to the new world of Android and Google Apps, it is fibre cable which holds the promise of allowing consumers to turn into providers of information, while bringing IT capacity to small businesses seeking to compete on the international stage. South Africa’s digital economy is still in its infancy, and the cost of retarding growth for purely political and ideological reasons has demonstrated that when it comes to labour rights, one may want a dash of Marx but when it comes to a flagging economy, what you really need are economic theories based in the here and now, geared to the problems of the day, not the 19th century.

DAY 17 PM Once again I get through to an operator. According to her, my order of 1 August is not on the system, but technicians ‘were at my premises yesterday’ she says, sadly the order was, surprise surprise, cancelled. She promises to follow up, to see what happened. I tell her that aside from the internal inquiry in the company (and a potential suite for damages) I still need my service to be installed at my new address as guaranteed. Since the company is an SOE, liability is restricted. I probably still have a shot at a complaint to an Ombud, but there is precious little I can do to stop the behemoth from needlessly damaging my own business. R50 airtime later and I am once again cut off by Vodacom, which appears to eschew calls to other operator service numbers. Calling service numbers is a bit like playing slot machines in R20 increments.

Never fear, the mobile counter at Checkers offers various SIM packages with free connectivity deals, there is Vodacom’s Free Facebook connect, and a Cell C free for R12 Whatsapp deal. But no free service numbers across networks. No allowance for error on anyone’s part. Then there’s the fine print, in order to purchase a new SIM one needs to RICA the SIM, and in order to comply with the legal result of the USA Patriot Act, renamed The Democracy Act in South Africa and all resulting from a suite of post-911 global Anti-Terror and Anti-Money Laundering legislation, one needs to provide paperwork such as proof of address on the off-chance I might be spying on my government, or part of an international terrorist syndicate. If adult persons such as myself find it hard going getting connected, what about pensioners and the infirm?

The 20 year one-horse cable race provided courtesy of the ANC reminds one of the joke about flogging the dead horse. A committee has been appointed to inquire into why the dead horse is not doing its job.

DAY 18 I go into town, recharge, only to have mobile data suck my account dry. Neglected to turn it off, me bad, buy hey why is the default plan always pay, pay, pay? I get to a Telkom outlet, only to speak to a Tony Erhenreich lookalike, replete with golfing shirt. He claims he can’t help me, since “this is a Telkom mobile outlet” and “we’re a mobile company”, but nevertheless puts me on a free line to a helpdesk. I speak to the operator, assured that my precious mobile units are not being eaten. The operator is adamant that the address where my new line is to be installed is in Woodstock not Muizenberg, I ask her if she is perhaps a foreigner? No, she says she grew up in KZN. Never been to Cape Town? No. Never studied geography? No. ‘Cape Town, its a major a metro, you should visit Muizenburg sometime, you would like it,’ I say. She duly completes yet another reorder and issues a reference number. I get home only to open my Telkom bill, to find there’s an offer of a ‘free cordless phone, our housewarming gift to you,” in fine print at the bottom of the damn thing. To receive it, I would have to apply for a relocation online. Is this all just a perverse case of reward and punishment? The corporation is punishing me for not applying for a gift, via the appropriate channels?

DAY 21 I receive yet another chummy “Dear Customer” sms, this time thanking me for ordering a telephone service for my new address. Apparently my “order” is receive attention and further communication will follow. The sms thanks me for choosing Telkom. “your service provider”

DAY 24 I am admitted to the online club of fuming Telkom users, each one with a jarring story to tell. There’s the guy whose service failed, who then upgraded to a 20mb line, expecting better service for more money, only to find he was now being billed for a service unavailable to the area he lives in, and to make matters worse, he is now blacklisted for refusing to pay up. Or the customer who got told Telkom don’t install cables in ‘black townships’ due to supposed cable theft. (whatever happened to fibre to the curb or fibre to the home?) Or the lady whose four year saga involving payments and no-service really takes the cake in terms of limited liability and refusal to abide by a government decreed service mandate, one of many election promises made by the ruling party. A litany of complaints involving failure to repair lines, even in popular metro areas. The abuse of debit orders. A culture of ineptitude and buck-passing, and abdication of responsibility. As the Peter Principle dictates, ordinary people will always rise to their own level of incompetence.

DAY 25 Am considering building my own telco. Another SMS arrives, this time with a more serious tone: Dear Client, Telkom will send a representative to your premises to fulfil your request … we have scheduled an all-day appointment for Monday. That’s right, an all-day appointment productivity sink. The company also demands various documents such as a certified copy of my ID. So much for being a loyal customer. Or perhaps they’re just concerned I may have changed my identity in the past 5 years that I’ve been getting service from them. Enough time to take those hormone shots?

TO BE CONTINUED

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Our 14 point action plan

1) Fire No 1 and pay back the money

2) Cut back on five hour lunch sessions, R1bn wagyu steaks for No 2

3) Dump the Gupta Raj and the British East India Company kickbacks.

4) Reduce size of cabinet to pre-Zuma levels

5) Break up SOEs into smaller units, sell SAA.

6) Dump Eskom and introduce an Energy Commons

7) Introduce a Social Wage for all (including Basic Income Grant)

8) Household responsibility to provide home economics

9) Income equalisation for periodic work

10) Rent Stabilisation for those renting

11) Compulsory Civics classes for young scholars and new immigrants

12) Adopt David Robert Lewis’ Electronic Freedom Charter

13) Celebrate the Earth Rights we got into the Constitution

14) Hire competent staff at finance ministry

Zille and all that Mmusi Jazz

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A ploy to raise the stakes in bid for Presidency?

IT WAS inevitable that the opposition Democratic Alliance would arrive at its own Rubicon. The saga involving party stalwart Helen Zille, what she said or didn’t say, what was meant or not meant, the affectations of white liberal insiders, the embarrassing grand old colonial edifice and all its past glories, suddenly rendered impotent by a growing and vocal group of black entrepreneurs to its left and the irony of a conservative Afrikaner establishment to its right. Let’s just say that the old model of opposition politics no longer holds.

While cavalier, Mmusi Maimane was certainly reading the mood of the electorate, setting the stage for the 2019 general election, and his run for President in standing firmly against superiority, class attitudes and snobbery within his own party. Admittedly with this type of populism, it is all about political demeanour, perceptions and the will of the masses on the ground.

That national student movements such as SASCO found themselves weighing in on the subject, meant the DA, an alliance if ever there was one, was suddenly finding itself cast into the national spotlight. Provincialism of the kind articulated by Zille and her followers had no place. And hence while some bemoaned the outcome, a tragic fait accompli, it was inevitable that the party would find itself at a cross-roads, with a choice of futures. Can the DA ever hope to govern the nation, without creating tensions amongst its provincial partners?

It was no less than Douglas Gibson who first characterised the problem, Zille was past her sell-by-date. Thus Tony Leon soon found himself publicly praising Maimane for taking tough action against Helen over the colonialism tweets. While the prevarications and equivocations by the premier went from bad to worse. That the Cape Town lady was deploying the politics of World War 2 in her defence, admittedly of an Asian economic model merely made her arguments seem antiquated.

This was not a society gone racially mad but a case of corrective action, a necessary medicament arising from the furore surrounding a simple online tweet, and requiring a better perspective, than the past fiasco which had been a case of not growing up, or too much too soon —  the party head-hunted struggle stalwart Mamphela Ramphele mid-flight, in the last general election was unable to broker an effective alliance with its grass-roots ticket and thus a broad coalition of partners that could have produced a major victory for moderate black voters and their allies in the civil service and SOEs.

If the party is to have any hope of winning the next general election, it has to move forward under its current leadership. There are a number of caveats. Can the social wage be protected if not by social democrats? Whereto the provinces versus the national vote? Is there a way of saving the Western Cape’s unique character, given that the DA is an alliance, which has done remarkably well in South Africa’s metros? Where to Mmusi from here?

It was thus apt, that Zille announced her suspension today, with a tweet “DA has suspended me. They have agreed I can share my reasons why I should not have been suspended. Here they are:

Screenshot from 2017-06-08 18-51-45

Only time will tell whether or not this emerging political formation, untrammelled by the corruption within the current Zuma administration, and unhindered by the ideological baggage of the far-left, will pull through to its destiny in a future national cabinet. My bet is surely on Maimane for president, and come the next election, anything but the current Mafiosi state of Jacob Zuma.

BRICS dilemma, folly or curse?

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Master of Junk

IT WAS never meant to be anything more than a political union, similar in status to the non-aligned states. Economically, only two of the five BRICS nations, China and India are doing well, the rest are all currently in junk status. Russia was junked in 2015, followed by Brazil in 2016 and South Africa in 2017. In many respect it is Russia which has tilted BRICS in favour of junk, and has lead the pack in this regard, with the result, there is now a Good BRICS and a Bad BRICS story.

Goodness BRICS

Let’s take a look at what is good here. So far as the China is concerned, the need to create markets for its overproduction of goods has meant that it is forced to continue investing in overseas markets, and the result is largely of benefit to us.

South Africa, an outlier so far as size is concerned, has seen several deals involving, variously, the creation of an entire city in Modderfontein, the relocation of a Hisense television factory to our shores, and the latest investment of 11Bn Rand towards a new car factory in PE. So in addition to our ample resources and export market, there is now significant beneficiation of goods within the country, in an evolving relationship, all producing goods which in turn end up in the West.

India, another global leader, has taken a slightly different tack. The past decade has seen successive major investments by Asian-based entrepreneurs in the South African economy. Beginning with Lakshmi Mittal, who bought former state-owned ISCOR shortly after democracy, to create ArcelorMittal. More recently the Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal bought a substantial stake in Anglo American, a traditional dual-listed South African business, which has relocated its headquarters to London. The pattern is thus one of picking up bargains, arguably to the benefit of stakeholders. Though trade between the two countries is booming, this is often however at the cost of local clothing and textile workers.

Badness BRICS

Where trade with the two Asian economic giants of BRICS has tended to benefit South Africa. The reverse is true when it comes to Russia. Instead of buying out state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as in Mittel, relieving taxpayers of an unnecessary drain on the treasury, or simply just investing money, the Russian strategy has been instead to hijack the remaining SOEs whilst foisting projects upon us of dubious merit. In effect it is Russia which has engaged in what can only be called a form of state capture, and nuclear colonialism.

The proposed Rosatom nuclear deal along with its many intrigues under Malusi Gigaba is very bad for South Africa, both economically and politically. Apart from the fact that the deal will result in an unnecessary 1Trn Rand expenditure from the treasury on nuclear technology already past its sell-by-date, — bringing to a halt and seriously compromising a highly successively renewable energy programme — it will not only relieve the country of taxpayers money, but will also remove scarce foreign exchange.

If implemented the Rosatum deal would commit South Africa to paying forward for its electricity in Dollars for the next 60 years — a currency that Russia desperately needs in order to balance its own books. In effect no money is being invested by Russia as such. Instead, the country would borrow money on the open market against its forward production, in order to buy moribund technology from Russia in a similar deal already concluded with Saudi Arabia. The ‘sukuk deal’ financed Medupi and Kusile in this way, and albeit local technology which benefitted, the resulting finance model is no doubt to the ultimate detriment of the economy and climate. See how Saudi money dried up.

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Rachel Dysphoria, the Dolezal visit to South Africa

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Disorder or Non-Conformity?

CONTROVERSIAL advocate of ‘racial fluidity’ and ‘trans-racialism’  is to visit South Africa according to the BBC, to promote her biography, In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World . The arrival of Rachel Dolezal is bound to kick up a storm in the ongoing debate being waged between non-racialists and multi-racialists. The latest round has seen non-racialists being accused of hiding behind a smokescreen of privilege, effectively using the idea to escape responsibility for past injustices.

Non-racialism is the result of successive ideological developments within South African politics, beginning with Robert Sobukwe’s claim at his treason trial: “There is only one race, the human race” and “multiracialism is racism multiplied”; This was followed by Steve Biko’s historic 1971 statement: “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation — being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”

The ANC, once a champion of multiracialism, adopted the non-racial agenda after Nelson Mandela was converted to the cause on Robben Island. According to Mandela, ‘race was to be rendered immaterial’, ‘all persons were to enjoy equality before the law’. That the current administration gives such nuances of non-racialism and equality lip-service (both ideas enshrined in the country’s constitution) can be seen in the abundance of one ethnic group in the latest cabinet, all given preferential treatment under the current Kwazula-Natal focused administration of Jacob Zuma — this while race classification issues and the legacy of apartheid continue to dog the regime.

This writer is currently under sanctions by a local court for denying his appointed ‘race category’, following an offensive race-testing probe by an apartheid media firm. Remarkably, critics of Dolezal, appear to judge her case on the basis of special criteria (see below), in the same way that a special clause, known as the Sobukwe clause was added to legislation in order to justify the founder of the PAC’s continued incarceration. It should be remembered the apartheid regime insisted on the existence of discrete racial categories and thus racial bias in a system supported by scientific racism. There is no scientific basis for the assertion that race exists as anything more than an informal taxonomy.

Critics of non-racialism often confuse issues of class exploitation and poverty. While South Africa is an example of a tragic ‘confluence of race and class’, in which persons labelled black are more likely to be poor, (and dramatically so) there is no direct correlation as such, which would make this a universal rule. As science shows, adaptive traits such as hair and skin colour are not indicative of a separation between the species, there is thus no direct correlation between one’s genes and one’s physical appearance, and being wealthy and being poor. In other words historic racism is not the same as institutional racism. Blackness is not the result of a preponderance of African ancestry, if this were so, Native Americans for instance, would be white.

Attempts to define people according to physical features and anatomy have invariably resulted in discrimination.  One should thus not mistake the impact of past exploitation on the basis of race criteria, for normality, and in so doing, assert that race criteria is or should be the norm. The ‘racial wealth gap’ is not overcome by resorting to more racism.

That the strange idea persists can be seen by a recent comment this week: “Race is real the way maths is real. It’s something humans created that can be used to our detriment or to our advantage.” The assertion without any evidence, was made by a reporter associated with The Citizen in an online debate on social media on Friday, following the breaking of the Dolezal story, and is consistent with the position of Media24. One can only respond: “There is no ‘maths of race’. The only persons making such statements have been discredited eugenicists.

Another participant in the discussion, was even harsher in her use of irony: “Please come to South Africa and enjoy the full experience which the majority of black woman endure. There are plenty of overworked maid jobs with below the breadline pay …” The various criticisms of Dolezal, that she is effectively ‘trading off the misery of others’, is ‘passing herself off’ as something which she is not, and is ‘guilty of cultural appropriation’, need to be seen within the context of similar criticisms of Mother Teresa and others. The criticism has no basis nor place in human rights law. Cultural appropriation (in whatever form) is a factor of life in a polyglot, globalised society, one remarkably difference from the former colonial empire, based as it was on ideals of racial purity and for which cross-pollination itself was anathema. That Dolezal herself is breaking taboos within the so-called white community from which she sprung, is hardly remarked upon by opinion-makers slamming her membership of the NAACP.

That body presentation and identity issues are par for the course in the 21st Century can be seen by the fact that nobody would think the unthinkable and slam albino model Thandi Hopa for not having enough melanin, and trading off the resulting racial dysphoria. Instead in Rachel’s case, her attempts to deal with her ‘black experience’ , resulted in an obscene racial witch-hunt, and highly public race-probe based upon discredited apartheid race science. Doleza says that “challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness”

Dolezal has an adopted black brother Izaiah , and a black child from a black man. To put this in a nut-shell, Rachel isn’t “pretending to be black”, her life is not a parody as in ‘blackface’, but rather the result of attempting to deal with her existence, in particular her troubling relationship with her brother Ezra. The mix of reactions around the globe is certainly unprecedented, and indicative of a new far-right discourse which has entered the mainstream.

It will be interesting to see how Dolezal presents herself to an audience remarkably different from the one which pilloried her femininity and for which her latest biography is her considered response. Medialternatives therefore takes this opportunity to unreservedly welcome Rachel to South Africa.

Medialternatives has followed the Dolezal story and you can read previous postings here.

Letter to Editors

Dear Ed,

As a hostage to the conflict being waged by conservatives on either side, I wish to once again place on record my objections to the war in the Middle East. In particular the internecine, sectarian conflict involving members of various faith groups, who refuse to recognise the rights of secularists such as myself.

The conflict is clearly a long-standing, religious-based conflict involving the deployment of displacement theology by either side, in the battle over identity and the status of Jerusalem, a city regarded as holy by many religions.

I also wish to reiterate my objections to the separation barrier and my rejection of the so-called ‘right of return’ on the basis of my Jewish ancestry, placed on record shortly after the wall was built in 2000, and published prominently in the Israeli media.

As a secular humanistic Jew and subscriber to the principles of the Society for Secular Humanistic Judaism, Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment. The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.

As a struggle veteran and war resister, I also wish to remind my fellow South Africans of my objections to the rationalisations of members of the IDF, in a combined ECC-IDF platform on UCT campus during 1987, and also the continued dispute involving my Jewish identity recorded in the decision of a South African court, and involving offensive race testing.

Apartheid, and its sequel in the new South Africa, should never be used as the justification for domination by one group over another, nor should its motivations be forgotten. Dialogue and compromise by all sides, is the only way forward. As objectors on both sides have shown, another reality is possible.

Let peace prevail on earth.

[Letter published in South African Jewish Report]