Johannesburg - The circus came to town this week. And it was great. For a very brief moment, it all worked in the fabled richest square mile in Africa. There were police out and about.
The traffic lights worked and when they didn’t there were actual cops doing point duty. There was no disruption, no bottlenecks, no taxis running harum-scarum down wrong lanes or dodging in and out of slip lanes to gyppo (working) traffic lights.
Even the South African Air Force managed to send up a couple of Gripen fighter aircraft, after they were grounded for most of last year. In fact, there seemed to be a single fighter up several times a day or several pilots each getting a priceless opportunity to fly.
And it was all because BRICS was in town, but in truth you wouldn’t really have known, because it was so well organised and so well contained – it didn’t affect anyone else in Johannesburg. On the contrary, the hoteliers, restaurateurs and everyone else in related service industries were probably smiling all the way to the bank at this early Christmas rush.
But normality kicked in less than 10km away, like trying to renew a vehicle licence at the post office. You would have had to download your own forms. You would have to bring your own photocopy of your driver’s licence. You would have to hope the post office was open and if it was, that there wasn’t load shedding.
Even then all the stars would have to align. If one was out, no licence. One elderly person pointed out to a teller this week that they didn’t have a printer at home. The answer? Go to FNB. It’s a small example, but a telling one of how the post office, such an integral point of contact or government services for the public, especially in our smaller outlying towns, is in free fall.
It didn’t happen overnight; it’s been difficult to do anything for years at the post office. It started with parcels being ripped off as a perk for people who worked there. Very quickly corporate South Africa stepped into the breach. There’s an entire cottage industry of courier services, even Pep Stores, which is vital if you live in Aggeneys, Lady Frere or Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein.
South Africa effectively has become corporatised – and the bits the retailers can’t handle, the Gift of the Givers steps in and sorts. It shouldn’t be this way, but we are all too overwhelmed and too tired to do anything about it.
The BRICS conference showed us that the government can actually organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery and rather well too. We might be more the Briquettes to the real BRIC(S), but this week at least it lit a fire under the arses of a range of indifferent government departments and their political leaders who have been sleepwalking for years.
The question is, how do we keep them awake and start getting this kind of service in the rest of country – even 10km away in Randburg?