Opinion - Ever stood in a queue that seems to go on for hours and hours?

The past week I made the dreaded trip to the local post office in Midrand, Johannesburg. I could have done the renewal of the postbox online - I had tried three times and even sent an online complaint, to no avail.

So the trip was unavoidable. I rarely even fetch registered mail just because of the dreadful experience of the long period of standing in the long queue, in the overpopulated, humid and unpleasant hall.

With 11 counters dedicated to the usual post office services, one never sees more than two to three counters in use. Then, too, only one counter is ever “working”.

And when it is your turn to collect a parcel for example, the teller goes off for not less than 20 minutes to fetch your parcel while you wait. Sjoe! It seems their system of filing registered mail is questionable if they take 20 minutes just to search for it.

Have you ever experienced this at other government facilities?

How many times have you waited in the line at home affairs or the vehicle licensing office? 

Those queues also go on for hours. And even worse, they have a cut-off time of 1pm for you to even enter the queue. 

So, if you thought you could rush out of the office during your lunch break or even finish work at 3pm just to do a simple transaction like renew your postbox or car licence, think again.

You would probably need to get a day’s leave, and then some, because inevitably you need to go back because they require documents that you were not told you needed to have.

So I wondered just what have we as South Africans let ourselves in for?

We have now entrusted the South African Post Office with the payment of grants and pensions to the most vulnerable in our country. 

This hasn’t even started, yet the current service delivery is appalling or even dreadful.

Can you imagine our disabled, elders, pensioners and mothers with babies in arms (or on the back) standing for hours on end, just to get what is due to them.

We need to question just who is serving whom? 

Renewing the identity document, passport, driver’s licence, vehicle licence and collecting our grants and pensions is not a privilege. 

It is a requirement by law. These public servants are neither volunteers nor are they doing us a service.

They are in full-time employment, earning mostly decent salaries. 

Theirs is not an unpaid service. So I ask: why do they assume that they are doing us a favour?

Why are we keeping quiet when we should be asking questions, like after five minutes waiting, checking who the manager on duty is and asking why there are so few tellers on duty, actively, visibly and pleasantly attending to the customers? 

Why can we not demand better service? They have the funds for this, yet their poor planning becomes our problem.

We have let “them” reduce us to a compliant lot of “queuers”, without a voice. 

We are made to believe that we will be victimised when we ask questions and we are afraid of what others in the queue will think of us. 

Change this mindset. Ask questions and loudly too. Speak to the manager on duty. 

And, I ask you who are in the queue, to support those who dare to demand a better service.

The more you lodge complaints (and in public), the more our public service will be shaken up, the better service you will receive. 

And the shorter time it will take for you to queue. I stood in the queue at the post office for 90 minutes for a 3-minute transaction. Unbelievable!

I must give credit to our financial institutions who have a queuing system with a number allocated as per the nature of your query. 

So it’s not a one queue fits all approach like the post office and home affairs.

The bank provides each customer with a seat, while your number is called. And the queue goes fast too. 

And you have those magical queue walkers, the ones who actually listen to you and guide you to the correct queue, instead of waiting for an hour in one queue only to start at the back of the next queue all over again.

Thank goodness for the cellphone that takes your mind off this mindless waiting. 

One lady did an entire telephonic interview for a job, and paid all her accounts and called some relatives, while in the queue.

No wonder people pay others to be in queues for them. 

I would support this initiative, if only to avoid staring mindlessly at the tellers while in the queue and sending every negative thought to them when your legs and back hurt from long hours of standing and waiting.

Make a noise, South Africa! Don’t let poor service and supposed lack of manpower shove us into a corner and turn us into puppets.

* Varoshini Nadesan is a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg.