Let us applaud these cats for meowing
In modern-day South Africa, it's a miracle to get service from government departments without having to contribute to the Cool Drink Fund
Trying to collect a rental car at King Shaka International last year, I discovered that my driver's licence had expired. Being from the East Rand, I asked around to ascertain which licensing department behind the Klippies Curtain was the most efficient. Someone suggested that the further east I went, the less busy they would be. Driving all the way to Nigel seemed a tad extreme, so I settled for Springs.
Armed with the unwavering confidence of our future president, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, on his march to the Union Buildings, I arrived at the Springs licensing department. When I went to grab the green forms, I caught the security guard-cum-form dispenser smirking in my direction. The bastard is just jealous of my purposeful walk and disarming good looks, I thought. I strutted back to join the queue of hopefuls waiting in the morning sun.
A burly fellow peeped from the entrance and yelled, "Did anyone in this queue make an online booking?" We all shook our heads forlornly. Like everyone else around me, I'd been trying to make an online booking at least twice a day for a solid three weeks before finally braving the queue. Each time, the Natis website would either freeze or kick me out. On one occasion I had a breakthrough and got an actual date - sometime around Heritage Day. At some point I think the website pointed at me and laughed.
The good news is that two hours later the queue had inched forward three times. And by "inched" I mean we had moved forward exactly three inches, or 7.62cm. The tragic news is that in that time we had also inched back four times to accommodate folks who kept joining the queue from the front, assuring us they'd been there earlier.
At about the 2.5-hour mark a bald, stout man with a Magnum P.I. 'tache sauntered in and went straight to the front, and I lost it: "Excuse me, the queue starts over there!" He turned towards me with "Are you talking to me?" vibes, revealing a Parabellum 9mm pistol inside a holster, and I lost my appetite for social justice. Also, by this time my decision making faculties were hampered by dangerously low blood glucose levels and dehydration.
That day, I suffered the same fate as Moses and didn't make it to the Promised Land of being among the legal drivers in the land.
Over the next two months I braved the guys and gals in faeces-coloured uniforms who are obsessed with collecting cash for some Cool Drink Fund they have at headquarters. This went on until a wise JMPD officer asked me if I realised that my insurance would not pay up if I was involved in a collision. The thought galvanised me into action the very next morning. This time I opted for the Brakpan licensing department.
Once dehydrated, twice shy, they say. I arrived at 07h45 armed with enough water to quench the thirst of a parched dromedary. I brought dried fruit and biltong to snack on. I had a slab of fudge in case of a dramatic drop in blood glucose and, for good measure, I had a Camp Master in the boot.
At promptly 08h00 the doors were flung open. A uniformed fellow with a clear ID card on his lapel emerged and sorted us all into three queues: licence renewals, learner's licence/new applications, and collections. And then the locomotive chugged into action. By 08h30 I was approaching the front of the queue. Incredulous, I asked the folks around me if this was the normal order of things. Yes, they said. In hushed tones, they explained that "Bra Eazy", the fellow with the deadpan expression processing applications and renewals, was a no-nonsense administrator. Strict but fair and practical was the consensus.
When my turn came I discovered, horror of horrors, that my utility bill was missing from my document folder. I got to see the strict part of Bra Eazy because he told me curtly, "I can't process this without proof of residence. Go and fetch it!" I groaned audibly at the thought of another wait in the queue.
But then I experienced the "fair and practical" side, because he added, "When you return, don't stand in the queue. Come straight here." By 09h15 I had my brand-new temporary licence. And I hadn't contributed to the Cool Drink Fund to get it. A modern-day South African miracle!
I can almost read the thoughts of some folks reading this: "But surely this is exactly how it's supposed to work?" I totally agree. Maybe I am rewarding cats for meowing by singing the praises of the Brakpan licensing department and Bra Eazy. But I like to look at it this way: when the waiter puts that ice-cold Castle draught in front of me, I know what to expect. But it still doesn't stop me taking the first gulp, going into an orgasmic spasm and making gurgling baby noises.
Also, I like to believe something works around here...