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.