A national asset? Yeah, right!
TWO years ago a newspaper of the tabloid variety (one that is given to exclamation marks and capitalisation) carried a breathless front-page headline: "Incredible claim - Telkom helps out businessman!"
The sub-headline was equally sensational: "Entrepreneur says telco staff 'efficient and helpful' ".
The copy was unbelievable, even fantastical: "Tembisa retailer Charles Dlamini claims he got a business call answered by a Telkom employee - after being on hold for LESS THAN ONE HOUR! But that's not all! Dlamini - who has owned the Kak en Betaal Superette in the East Rand township since 1997 - says his query was attended to by a bright, enthusiastic operator who sorted out his problem ON THE SPOT!
"A still trembling Dlamini said yesterday: 'I'm totally shocked! I put the call on speakerphone and went to shout at Sophie, who was once again mixing up the Glenryck and Lucky Star pilchard cans in aisle three. I checked that Sipho at the checkout wasn't still giving people last week's discount on the Rainbow chicken livers and even had time to make myself a cup of Royco soup - but after JUST 42 MINUTES my call was answered! By a real person! I've been trying to get hold of Telkom since 2003 to find out why they're charging me for a fax line I cancelled seven years ago but I never thought the day would come that somebody actually did something! The lady even APOLOGISED! To ME! What's next? Maybe they're even going to offer me my money back!"
Okay, so I made up that whole story. Of course no one ever gets through to Telkom after only seven years and has their query addressed then and there.
I made up the story to express my bemusement at something Collins Chabane said the other day. The Odd Jobs Minister, by all accounts, tried to get journalists to ask Telkom - and not him - why the Cabinet had decided that 20% of Telkom shouldn't be sold to a business called Korean Telecom.
Chabane, properly known as the Minister in the Presidency, said the strangest thing. He described Telkom as "a strategic asset".
This was puzzling, even perplexing. Thousands of consumers and businesses, SMEs and corporates will tell you that Telkom is not what one would ordinarily describe as a national asset but rather as a national liability; a lumbering, expensive behemoth that is neither affordable nor effective.
Chabane's post-cabinet briefing, to say the least, said the least he could decently get away with. This is probably because what he really wanted to say was that hell would freeze over before he let those devious, slanty-eyed foreign devils meddle with the running of that jewel in the crown, the gloriously big, largely state-owned Telkom.
To give it its due, Telkom has in recent months been trying to turn itself around, but it's a business that changes CEOs more often than the average Times reader changes underwear (which I assume is most regularly).
The upshot is that businesspeople all over the country - especially those who don't have multimillion ICT budgets and their own dedicated Telkom account managers - most times wish they could go back to carrier pigeons and mailcoaches. But our government has saved us from the yellow peril.
Courageously, it has refused to bow to the demands of the inscrutable Korean chaebol with its sackloads of won. That the Koreans built an economy out of nothing, with no natural resources to speak of, from the ashes of a civil war within the space of just two generations and that they are extremely good at making things work while enriching and uplifting their populace rapidly and sustainably clearly doesn't mean we have anything to learn from them.
We don't have anything to learn from them because we have a government full of vision. A government that has visions all the time. Like five million jobs, like the vision where every last forlorn, forgotten village gets affordable YouTube access in eight years' time.
I realise that my use of irony is bordering on sarcasm but one has to ask oneself: what really put the brakes on the inestimably sensible decision to swap a fifth of rundown Telkom for several billion rands and an influx of Korean knowhow?
Might the answer have something to do with a headline I didn't make up, one that appeared this weekend: "Nationalise everything! Sub-headline: "Numsa's Irvin Jim says state should not stop at mines when taking control of the economy."
The writer does not own Telkom shares. Fortunately.