Out of Service

September has been a ridiculously busy month for me. Back-to-work after a lovely long holiday has been relentless in its expectations. There is a myth about busy-ness which really should be shattered – it’s not noble to be busy. It’s really all right to be doing nothing. Rest is good. Relaxation is essential for recovery from trauma, grief and stress and our bodies need to recover from strenuous physical activity. I once (unwittingly) got onto a moving treadmill at the gym (who the hell leaves a treadmill ON?!) and that’s exactly what September has felt like to me this year – except I have managed to stay on my feet.

Let me put it all into perspective for you. As teachers, we have become used to returning to work a day earlier than our students for training and meetings and whatever else the school decides we need at the start of term (one year, my headmistress decided we needed to laugh, and she arranged for John Vlismas to do a stand up set over brunch. That rocked.) This year we had 8am – 4pm preparation for the Umalusi inspection happening this month.

Umalusi is the government body that overseas education. In order for private schools to operate, they need to be accredited by Umalusi. This accreditation comprises a MASSIVE and thorough inspection – of policies, documents, records, marksheets, schemes of work, blah blah blah… It also comprises a R70 000 bill to afford them the opportunity to scrutinise our competence.

Here’s what gets me fired up: I teach at an excellent school. We have had a consistent 100% matric pass rate (except for that one child, who we recommended repeat Grade 11 and whose parents didn’t follow our advice) for much longer than the 12 years I have taught there. We’ve been in the top achieving schools of the IEB (Independent Education Board) over the last few years. One merely has to walk through the school to see that it functions well – teachers are educated, present and engaged, students are stimulated and much is expected from them, and there are plenty of parents hovering, ready to pounce on the school at any given opportunity to ensure that we are doing our jobs.

Why, then, should Umalusi need to scrutinise a school like ours? I have been to plenty of schools, sadly all state schools, which don’t function. Hordes of students are locked out at 8am because they are late, teachers are absent, classes are left unattended, and Maths is taught by rote. We still hear horror stories of drunken teachers, rape of students and corporal punishment. These things don’t happen at my school. So why are we under the microscope? Ouma Lucy (as they became known around school, not so affectionately) is the not-so-benign granny who wants printed versions of everything we already have electronically and causes much stress and distraction from our core function. I’d even be happy if they took our R70 000 and offered to spend it in a constructive manner – on uplifting a dysfunctional school.

Also during September, the water supply to my suburb was “interrupted” for over a week. Thankfully I was away with 73 girls during the first few days of the problem, where I was able to drink and shower in pure mineral water, sourced from the mountain above the campsite. When I returned to Joburg, water was back on but minimal, and then it went off again for a few more days. Having no water is definitely worse than having no electricity – not being able to wash one’s hands or one’s children or even flush the toilet feels like torture. At least the power was on and I could boil bottled water and wash my 7-year-old child in a shallow bucket. It worked surprisingly well, and also made me realise that countless people in our country are still forced to keep clean like this. For a short while, I berated my whingey whiteness because I’ve come to expect such luxury as turning on the tap and expecting clean water to flow out. And then I berated my city because ALL citizens of Johannesburg should be able to turn on a tap and expect clean water to flow out!

There is no water shortage in Johannesburg – one merely has to go to one’s local garage shop or supermarket to find tonnes of the stuff. If there isn’t enough water for our taps, perhaps the government should shut down the companies that are stealing our water from the source and charging us exorbitant amounts for it (while creating a mountain of plastic that we might never be able to get rid of). The buck was passed from Joburg Water to Eskom to god-knows-who. To my knowledge, nobody has lost their job because they didn’t do it.

One Thursday evening during the great drought, I went to my local gym in search of the bliss that comes from my yoga practice (and a good shower). While I was waiting to park, a very young driver reversed out of her parking spot and, despite my loud and incessant hooting, gently connected her rear bumper with my passenger door. I handed out rescue remedy, took her details, growled a little at missing my yoga class, and vowed to take it up with my insurer the following day. I didn’t make it to the police station the following busy day (but thought that it wouldn’t be an issue since it was such a minor accident). On the Saturday morning, when I did have time, I went to my local police station to report the accident. They asked me where it had happened, I told them, and they said I needed to be at another police station as that was not their jurisdiction. They could take the report, but it would have to be sent to head office and it might be a month before I got my claim number. Sigh. I went off to the other station, not too far from my area, only to be told by the not-so-patient officer there that because I hadn’t reported the accident within 24 hours, I would have to go to the JMPD head office in Loveday Street in town. Despite my pleading for them not to send me to town, there seemed to be no other option.

At Loveday Street, I was informed that they would not take my accident report until I had paid a R1000 fine for failure to report an accident within 24 hours. What!? Furious, I demanded to see the legislation that reinforced this. The officer failed to produce it, giving me instead a scrap of paper with the station commander’s details on it. I wish, now, that I’d held on to that. I ranted about being a victim of the accident and a victim of the system and tore at my hair a little, and then got hold of the girl who had caused all the fuss, who had thankfully already got a case number which we could both use. Wish she had told me before I had trekked to three police stations. I’ve also subsequently had to mission to the assessors, and haven’t even got to the panel beaters yet because I can’t face the thought of being without a car.

The day after water was restored (to much joyous celebration in my house) I woke up to discover that the electricity had been off since 2.30am. That day, as I drove to work, I noticed that rubbish had not been collected from my neighbouring suburb the day before. This did not do my patriotism much good. Nor did a discussion with my mother-in-law about the dog’s breakfast which is her City Power bill, which suddenly moved from R1500 per month to R16 000! Her efforts to resolve the problem (including a whole day spent at the customer “service” centre) have amounted to huge frustration and absolutely no resolution. In fact, despite being told that they would look into the account and try to resolve it by late October, they have now threatened to cut off her supply for non-payment. Aaaaaargh!

Is it too much to expect our systems to run smoothly? I don’t think it is. I firmly believe that people should be help accountable. If I don’t perform as a teacher, I expect to be called in, warned, and then fired if I still don’t perform. Surely the same system should apply to companies who provide services like refuse removal or water provision. Everyone knows that there is a major problem with the billing system in Joburg and has been for a good few years. Why, then, has the local government not put urgent systems in place to fix the problem? Instead, the citizens of this city are held to ransom by a system which is failing at many levels – and a lack of communication is leaving us feeling powerless and angry.

I don’t think we are far off from seeing service delivery protests hitting the suburbs. And if this government gives a damn about its citizens, they will start to put emergency systems in place to resolve these crises sooner rather than later.   Come on, Joburg! I love you, but you are behaving like an abusive husband. I deserve better than that, and so do all my fellow citizens!


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