It’s not easy to get things done in Cape Town at the best of times. The pace here is tortoise – especially in winter, or summer, or spring or Autumn. Life comes before work – the mountains beg to be hiked, the ocean begs to be surfed, the foghorn near my flat is farting it’s head off into the soft mist that hugs the Cape Peninsula. Who wants to work? Who cares that I have just moved and need things done yesterday. The indigenous Sami people of the Norway have a great saying that captures the work ethic of Cape Town: If you are in such a hurry, why didn’t you come yesterday? They ask. Who cares that I’ve just moved into a new/old flat? That the phone-line is sending smoke signals instead of 21st Century voiceovers? Who cares that the banging washing machine begs be balanced and I can’t call a fixer? I’m thinking out the box as each one unpacks.
My muse whispers the formula – “private”.
Here’s how it works (dinkum): Hello Telkom, can I speak to someone about urgently hooking up my new phone-line please? Silence at the other end, long enough to break the bank at mobile phone rates while I watch a whale breach under my balcony. Sure beats Muzak. Sorry says, the voice at the call-centre. I’ll give you a work-order number, but this hookup will take some weeks, maybe months, (maybe years? I dare not ask). Can I speak directly to the technician? I say with attrition. Telkom’s tortoise technicians take another whale-while to find a phone. Finally I get him, a real, live human. He assures me that this unreasonable request will take weeks maybe months. The fact that Telkom is the only phone company is a minor detail.
That’s when I drop the word “Private”. Do you work private? I ask. You home this morning? He replies. I hear the sunshine in his eyes. Yup I say, hating how happy I feel as I clean the dust off my dead phone. The rest is easy: The jingle of cash, a cup of instant coffee, 3 sugars and a plate of soggy marie biscuits. Private. The new economy. I feel uneasy to be supporting this value system but then I hear the foghorn farting at the wind and I’m not sure whether to fight back at it or not.