The strangest thing happened recently: I got a cellphone message thanking me for a greeting card I sent to England six days earlier.
That’s four tests in a row that my local post office has passed with flying colours. And the stamp on the airmailed greeting card cost only R8.40. I felt almost giddy with excitement. I intend celebrating by sending 24 Christmas cards to foreign shores.
The SA Post Office isn’t the only institution that has turned the corner (though, without being mean-spirited, it might be a tad early to declare that corner turned). Apparently the department of home affairs is breaking records with the speed with which it is issuing passports.
Yesterday I had to pay a traffic fine. The grim experience would have been over in two minutes if it had only been down to the municipality’s "paymyfines" website, but the private sector, in the form of my bank, failed me. It took all of eight minutes to receive a one-time password.
I’m hearing good things about the companies & intellectual properties commission from those who were crying about it a year or two ago.
Even Telkom is coming right, though its aged infrastructure makes this particularly hard to achieve. At least these days when you call to report a fault your call is answered in less than a minute by somebody pleasant who invariably encourages you to hope it may be fixed soonish.
This won’t feature in the research being done by the ratings agencies that are poking around, but it should.
If you turn away from the headlines for a while, you discover a country that works surprisingly well (particularly for those who have a job and live in a reasonably safe suburb). Tourists are able to see it so much better than we can, so perhaps the ratings guys will see it.
We locals seem determined to focus on what doesn’t work. Perhaps it is part of the human condition, like only being aware of the sprained finger, not the nine in perfect working order. We get so angry about the stuff that doesn’t work that we don’t notice all that does. The reality is that there’s a lot to be worried about in government, but most of its employees are doing a really nice job.
According to a recently released report from the Institute of Race Relations, there is much to be hopeful for in this country. The number of new HIV/Aids infections has halved since 1999, the economy has grown 85% in real terms since 1994, the number of people with jobs has doubled since 1994, 10 formal houses have been built for every shack erected since 1994, substantially more South Africans are going to university than ever before and living conditions have shown extraordinary levels of improvement.
These are amazing achievements for a country that has undergone such profound changes. Yet we are determined to be miserable and see our lives as only getting worse, dragged down by ineptitude and corruption.
And as soon as you remark on something positive, someone feels compelled to remind you of another inescapably grim fact and silently chastise you for your optimism.