Metrorail staff epitomise the South Africa we live in right now

10 Sep

On Saturday 4 September 2010, I purchased two tickets at the tickets outlet nearer the Old Marine Drive of Cape Town station (not the Strand Street side).

When I got to the till at 17:14 to purchase those tickets, I produced R15 and told the lady at the counter behind the glass that I wanted “one to Khayelitsha, one to Chris Hani”. I have used that exact phrase, barring the destination on numerous times on stations all over Cape Town, from Khayelitsha to Du Toit, Simonstown to Bellvile with no problem in my over 15 years of taking a train.

Instead of the lady giving me the tickets as I had requested, she asked me what I meant by “one to Khayelitsha and one to Chris Hani” with an offensive tone. I replied that I wanted one ticket ending in Khayelitsha and another ending in Chris Hani. She then told me that is what she wanted to hear and warned that I should be less ambiguous next time, as those tickets could be returns, weeklies or monthlies. I then asked her what was so ambiguous about that, as I had given her R15 for two tickets. Not only were other tickets out of range, why would I need a return ticket after 5 on a Saturday evening? Moreover,  I had expressly said TWO tickets? I then told her that it was “clear” that I wanted two singles. One to Khayelitsha and one to Chris Hani.

This lady then hounded me from the other side of the glass and asked: “Do you know what the word ‘clear’ means? Because you seem not to be able to even spell it.” She said in isiXhosa to emphatically imply that I was stupid, illiterate, uncivilised and that I did not have a good command of the English language, and of course that she did unlike me. I then kept quiet and looked down in disappointment, shame and embarrassment, for her not me. Thinking that I had been defeated, she finally gave me the tickets. I asked her if I had change. She pondered for a few seconds as if she has her hands full and the “no”, she muttered. I then walked away almost laughing at the situation. In fact, I would laugh if it was not so serious. I gave her R15. A single to Khayelitsha costs R6.50 and a single to Chris Hani costs R7.50.

So I was due R1. Of course this is not about the R1, it is about her being deceitful, among other things. The above story shows 4 bad qualities in an interaction that lasted all but 40 seconds: poor customer service, low IQ, deceitfulness and utter rudeness. I have no idea how long this lady has been working at the ticket office or for Metrorail, but she came across as being new and naive. I say she had low IQ because she failed to understand a very simple command of “one to Khayelitsha, one to Chris Hani”. Utter rudeness is that way she addressed me. South Africa is a rainbow nation where different people may say or do things without intending to offend the other. However, in a situation where someone implies that you are stupid, illiterate and uncivilised, it is hard to find what else the person implying wanted to say than the obvious. Deceitful because she failed to give ne my R1 change. You caanot but wonder how the hell she got her job? Isn’t one supposed to right an entry test for basic arithmetic and customer service? I fail to understand how employees, especially those in the face of companies can be so inept at assisting the general public.

As a social commentator and a social experiment conductor who voluntarily tackles civil problems, I call this inferiority complex where people of all races, including blacks see blacks as less than anyone else. Yes the above happens to every racial group, but it is more severe and more widespread the darker one’s skin and shallower the pocket.

Of course, these are perceptions, as I am neither poor nor uneducated. However, being a poor, uneducated black man was the readily available perception and preconceived idea of blacks like me and her in her mind. And the fact that I was buying train tickets from her instead of taking a car drove the point home. We need to erode pattern of thinking.

I will also say that the security guards were chatting her up like schools boys over a school girl rather than marshalling the queue as part of their job description. I know this might seem a little harsh from my side until I explain what I mean. These two security guards were on the glass chatting to the lady while customers were buying tickets. In addition, she seemed to be enjoying the attention she was getting from the two people as she was chatting back and speaking over customers who were already at the counter.

This is not the first complaint I had with Metrorail. On the 3rd of July 2010, the day Argentina played Germany here in Cape Town during the World Cup I was assaulted and ridiculed by about 10 Metrorail staff. I reported the matter on Monday 5th July 2010 and only implicated the two who were heavily involved out of the 10. Initially they management seemed quite eager to act, but I have not heard anything since. They are ignoring me. I am sure that if someone in power pushed them for an answer, they would find a way to blame it on me. It is always like that with incompetent people. I recall the last time I was there they all complained that they were busy and too much on their plate, as if to imply that dealing with disgruntled customers is not part of their work. This flies in the face of the current facelift sparked by the World Cup. The attitude of the staff, from Mr Ndzuzo, whom I have met more than once failed dismally to deal with my issue and the rest of his staff has failed to impress in their jobs.

I would dearly love to live in a country where all people are treated equally. I cannot even blame white people this time; it is just a colonised mind of a black person who suffers from inferiority complex. I understand that we are yet to reach the proverbial promise land. Nevertheless, we need to think more of ourselves before others can. Dr Phil McGraw often quotes: “You teach people how to treat you”. We need to internalise that as South Africans in general, and blacks in particular.

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