So here’s what can happen when you set aside some time to get a few things done, especially if the things that want doing have something to do with the government.
There has been no time, for several weeks past, to attend to personal business and so, in planning for this busy week – interviews in two cities and two universities, meetings, you know the drill – I also set aside this morning, to attend to matters of my own. In driving order, in other words, in the order I followed to go from office to office, I wanted to i) tackle the municipality about the bucket-load of money they have owed me, by way of a refund on an extortionate advance payment on my water and electricity, since I sold and transferred ownership of the house in Emmarentia, last September; ii) I hoped to collect the new police clearance certificate I applied for early in May, to send on to the Canadian immigration authorities; and iii) I planned to renew my vehicle licence, which expires at the end of this month.
Knowing that trying to call the city call centre on the telephone had less chance of success than trying to place a collect-call to Barack Obama, I climbed into the Landy after first getting myself into a positive frame of mind by working, most satisfactorily, on my novel for an hour, and headed over to the Sandton call centre to find someone I could make understand, politely, that the city had owed me for almost nine months now, and I wanted my money. I would even take it without interest – just pay me, okay?
Ja well no fine, as we say here in South Africa: the call centre was offline and unable to help me. That is, assuming they could have helped me if they had been online, which is a second doubtful proposition. Viva ANC, viva! Who was it, again, who voted these people back in? These people, who create a billing crisis of national proportions and then deny its existence? These people who can’t fill in a pothole or mend a streetlight but know where the best places in town are to party, at ratepayers expense? These people who – never mind.
Onwards and upwards: up the hill to Morningside, to the police station: no Mr Fisher (very polite, this lady administrator, at the Sandton cop-shop) your police clearance is not here. Try again next Friday.
Oh well, they did say it could take up to two months. So on now to renew the licence for the Landy. Fortunately this could be done at the Hyde Park shopping centre, at the Post Office, just a few hundred metres up the drag from our little town house. I zip into the parking garage, and go to draw some money. There is a queue to die for, and so I go shopping instead: a scarf (it is 14 degrees in Joburg today) and socks, from Woollies. Back to the ATM, where a family group has gathered for a puzzled – and extended – conversation. Eventually I draw the cash and make my way to the Post Office, which always has processed car licences – only to find a sign, the gist of which is that we can’t do that here right now. When? I ask someone behind the counter. What is the problem? We’re waiting for ‘them’ to send us someone to process the licences, she says. When will that be? I ask. She shrugs and smiles. ‘I don’t know.’ ‘So where can I get my licence?’ I ask. She smiles again and rattles off a list of post offices, from Sandton to Randburg.
Outside in the parking garage I pause: shall I just call it quits for the day, go home and have some lunch? Hell, I say, I’ve set aside the day for this, I’ve got to accomplish something! So I get back into the Landy and forge my way through the traffic to Rosebank; park the car, and head down the escalators to the Post Office. I hand over my licence disc. ‘Can I renew my licence with this?’ I ask. ‘Yes – just fill in the form – .’ The fellow at the counter pushes over a green form – ‘and I’ll need your ID.’ He points to the place on the form where it says Type of Identification. Traffic register number; RSA ID; foreign ID; business reg. no. ‘I have a drivers licence,’ I say. ‘No,’ he says. ‘It has to be one of these.’
So the traffic department, whose business, whose reason for existence, is cars and drivers, won’t accept a drivers licence as ID, when absolutely EVERYONE else does? Go figure. I take a deep, deep breath, and mutter the word ‘shit,’ loudly enough to turn one or two heads.
And so, eventually, I return home at one o’clock having accomplished, of the three objectives for this morning that I have carefully and with forethought set aside, precisely none.
Except that I did manage to drop off some dry cleaning, and replenish my stock of ink and notepads – I will be needing those, when I get stuck back into the next round of interviews.