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Archive for September, 2009

Logic: a scarce commodity among retail assistants and their managers

with 3 comments

It started innocently enough. It was my lunch hour and I quickly whizzed off to get my eyebrows done. En route to my scooter I decided I needed airtime. I walked into Woolworths in the Waterfront and the search started: their ‘Connect’ kiosk had moved to the back of the store.

I needed airtime to buy an sms bundle for R67.50. I pulled out R70 and told the assistant that I need R70 Vodacom airtime, please. She stared at me and I repeated the process: “R70 Vodacom airtime, please.” She told me that Vodacom airtime does not come in such a denomination.

What I had been hoping would be a quick transaction started to look as though I’d be there the entire day. I told her that it really doesn’t matter to me in which denominations she gives me the airtime; all I want is something that’s close to 70 bucks.

She did a bit of mental exercise and offered me R55 and 2 R12 vouchers. But that’d give me R79 and I only really wanted R70 or as close to that as possible; R70 being the minimum I wanted. I got frustrated and asked her to call her manager. He arrived and I asked him “Why is it so difficult to sell me R70 worth of Vodacom airtime?” He, too, told me that they don’t sell such a denomination. Oy, this guy was unhelpful. And I got ticked off — I used for fuck sakes. So yes, he wanted me to be calm, polite and just buy the R55 voucher. But I was having none of it: I asked for the store manager. Surely the store manager will use a bit of logic and arithmetic — or a calculator — to sell me an amount of R70 — minimum — or close to it?

He called one of the store’s management staff and she, too, was unable to find a solution.

Eventually one of the other assistants, who had been listening in on the conversation, said they should sell me 5 R12 vouchers. But that’s only R60, not the R70 that I had asked for. I asked him why only 5 vouchers? So he changed his stance; he told them they should sell me 6 vouchers that’ll cost me R72. No-one bothered to thank him. I told him that he, not they,  should be management instead.

What irritated me most was not the guy telling me I shouldn’t use foul language; what irritated me most was that only one out of 4 people could use their logical faculties to figure out 6 of these R12 vouchers equal R72. I’m unsure whom to blame. I used to blame companies for not training their staff properly. But it’s not that simple.

I, too, used to work in retail. Long hours bla di bla. Poor pay bla di bla. Bad working conditions bla di bla. And yet I could somehow solve such problems. Had it been my superior education at D.F Malan High School? Had it been my mother? What was it?

There will always be apologists; they’re everywhere. One of them is burning to tell me that I shouldn’t expect much from a Woolworths cashier. I ask them why? Why should I expect nothing from cashiers? They aren’t an inferior race/class; they’re human and most of them have high school certificates at the very least. Especially Woolworths cashiers.

Other apologists will tell me to expect nothing of the majority of South Africans; they’re stupid anyway. The problem with such logic is that the majority of South Africans control whom we elect as President. So critical thinking and problem solving skills are a must, not a luxury. The maority keep company CEOs accustomed to the good life; the majority never complain and they make life difficult for those of us who do demand better service. In all spheres, not just in retail.

We could even call critical thinking something else: common sense. We do not learn this at school. Instead they teach us about important things such as Jan Van Riebeeck’s arrival in Kaap de Goede Hoop. And we learn that 1 + 2 = 3

Yes, these things are important but only knowing how to recite facts parrot style won’t help an irate customer who wants to get R70, R90 or R400 airtime.

But governments do not want their citizens to have common sense; they want citizens who’ll fund their lavish lifestyles. Yes, sure, they provide us with things such as the basic infrastructure but they can do so much more with our Tax and VAT money. And to maintain the status quo means not investing in the next generation’s thinking skills. For to do the opposite would entice dissent and another round of Mandelas and Bikos.

There is a happy ending to my tale of 6 Vodacom vouchers: I had to go back to Woolworths for some of this and went back to the Connect counter. James was there and I told him that I truly believe he should be management. He seems like a bright enough young fellow who can remain calm and offer a solution when everyone around him falters.

Update: Seth Godin blogged about ‘Win the fight, lose the customer’ today. Someone at Woolworths should start reading his blog.

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

September 21st, 2009 at 4:10 pm

What I disliked about District 9

with 10 comments

This quote sums up District 9:

The humans’ treatment of the “prawns,” which is clearly modelled on the Apartheid government’s actions, as well as the local masses’ recent xenophobic behaviour, is quite horrible – but it’s also difficult to stop laughing if your tastes in humour are cynical and politically incorrect..

I enjoyed it. I really did. It couldn’t have been the rational part of me that had enjoyed the movie; it must’ve been the irrational part. Or perhaps it’s because there were many South Africanisms in the movie, especially Wikus’ use of ‘fok’, ‘fokken’ and ‘kak’. Another thing, and this I read on someone else’s review, is that neither the Pentagon nor the White House had any involvement. How’s that for awesome and refreshing?

But there were many scenes that upset me – visually and morally. Hakeem Kae-Kazim, the Hotel Rwanda actor, criticised the movie; and Armond White also criticised the movie. Other reviews give it far more praise than scorn: NYT says it is a “smart, swift new film from the South African director Neill Blomkamp”;Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 89%

The movie does have many flaws. And, let’s admit it, it’s a racist anti-racism movie. But it did have a few scenes that stood out.

Another quote that sums up what I think about the movie: “But I don’t think that means we can give it a free pass from the charge that a significant aspect of the film IS racist or assume that because some of the film is anti-racist, nothing in it can be racist.”

So, besides the plot holes, here are the things that I noticed – and that alarmed me – about District 9:

We see few women

Christopher’s son doesn’t have a mother. The only women we meet are connected to Wikus – his wife, his mother and his colleagues – or they are  witch doctors or prostitutes. But we don’t even get to meet the prostitutes: we only see them doing the things – interspecies sex – they do. And the witchdoctor looks scary, no? “…she might as well have had a bone through her nose and been muttering “unga munga”"

When do we get a woman [of colour?] as a main character? And when do we get a woman who has more than a couple of sentences in a Sci-Fi movie?

Soweto’s citizens are barbarians

Does Blomkamp not know that Desmond Tutu lives in Soweto? And that there are many middle class people living in Soweto? Surely they do not all riot?

The Nigerians speak Xhosa

Nigerians are not Xhosa; Nigerians speak Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Kanuri and English, among others. I understand that the drug lord could’ve used South Africans to work for him but we never know for sure; all we know is that the Nigerians run the cat food scam, not South Africans.

The fast food manager had a gun

Why would any fast food manager have a gun hidden away in case someone like Wikkus limps in?

Black people – Nigerians, mostly – are uncivilised.

Yes, there are Nigerian drug lords living in South Africa. But there are also many Nigerians who live legal lives. We only get to see the bad ones; we don’t see ‘good ones’. Why not portray one or two ‘lesser evil’ Nigerians?

Contrast this to the white people whom Blomkamp depict as rational and civilised, even though they are evil. Their characters are a bit more well-developed – one even has a family! – and more thought out than the black characters.

The lone good black character is yet another cardboard cut out figure and we don’t even get to see much of him.

The riots reminded me far too much of 2008′s xenophobic riots

It was uncomfortable to see how black people are once more depicted as savages who run around with sticks, looting everything in sight. They could’ve shown one or two middle class people in their middle class Soweto home, talking about how they’d rather the aliens leave for good.

But no. He doesn’t want to depart from the familiar trope of African savages – he probably reckons that his mostly American, mostly white, northern hemisphere audience doesn’t understand anything that differs from their preconceived ideas about Africa.

This be no Apartheid/District 6 allegory

I’ve heard this one so many times, from so many different people. I don’t agree with it and I’ve only encountered one or two dismissals of this theory.

The aliens and real South Africans of colour only have two things in common: they lived in shacks and they weren’t welcome. And not all POC South Africans lived in slums during the 1960s and 1970s; many lived in neighbourhoods similar to ones we see in white areas.

POC in Apartheid South Africa didn’t destroy trains for ‘no reason’; they destroyed property in protest of their treatment by the NP government.

I’d love to hear a good argument for why I should see District 9 as an Apartheid allegory.


You’ll enjoy it much more if you can switch off your brain by ignoring – or celebrating – the racism, the gaps in the plot and the needless action scenes.

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

September 7th, 2009 at 6:56 pm