Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Waiting For Telkom (AKA, South Africa's National Pastime)

I'll never complain about slow internet again. OK, I probably will, because most of it is horrifically slow here, and you don't know how hard life can be until you've waited a good 5 seconds to load the perfect cat meme to send as a witty response to a friend's text (or SMS as they call them here, because in the spirit of doing ALL things inefficiently in South Africa, they've decided to tack on an extra two syllables. Just because they can).

Anyway, I'd just be happy to have internet at my house. Any internet. I'd gladly pay whatever it takes, or trade one of my children, or watch a room full of elderly Russian men slurp borscht for hours on end at excruciating volumes, if only I could get internet at home.

Here's the deal. While internet is becoming more and more readily available, and while fibre is gradually being rolled out across the country, most people still rely on DSL connections here, which is fine. However, while there are many DATA providers, only one company can provide the line. And that company is government run (read- impossibly inept). Just the mention of Telkom here makes people's nether regions pucker up, but we're at their mercy. The data providers can give us data ONLY through a Telkom line, which means Telkom is responsible to ensure their line actually works.

Almost 2 months ago, we called Telkom and said "We'd like to give you money. And in exchange, can you do the sole thing you exist for, and provide us a line." This shouldn't be too hard, as it's literally the only thing they do. It's not like I called them to ask where the crap I can find regular, non-flavored tortilla chips here so I can make a decent plate of nachos, which I'm desperately craving right now and which seem to be entirely unavailable here. Anyway, they proceeded to give us non-stop entertainment for almost two months (and counting) now.

The first installer came within a week. All good. But then we needed an electrician to install a wire for Telkom. Why we can't get Telkom to do that, I have no idea. So we hired an electrician. Telkom came back and said the electrician didn't do his job right, which, because this is South Africa, of course he didn't. So we called him back. Then waited for Telkom again. Several days later, Telkom assured us the line was installed and working. Great!

Our first order of business was to change our service to Afrihost, because we wanted nothing to do with Telkom after hearing numerous horror stories about their abysmal service. The thing is, though, they still control the line. The data company simply takes over- you pay the data company, and the data company pays Telkom for the line rental. So there's no escaping. And to further de-hance their customer service, Telkom immediately cuts off your line and puts you in a "holding pool" if you want to go through another company. The wait is typically 20 business days, so you're looking at a month with no internet, Because most people don't want to be cut off from Netflix, cat pictures, and eelslap.com for an entire month, they choose simply to stay with Telkom. To make this clear, Telkom has resorted to cutting customers off from the ONLY way they can access the internet if the customers don't want to use Telkom, who is renowned for their "couldn't give a crap" service. We decided to wait them out.

After we got the notification our line had migrated to Afrihost (in a record 27 days!), we were off to the races! And by that I mean we didn't even make it to the racetrack. After several calls to Afrihost, we determined there must be something wrong with the line that Telkom had assured us was working. After another 4 calls to Telkom, they insisted the router we had bought was defective. I told them it wasn't, but they claimed that was the only possible problem. So we packed up the kids, drove 20 minutes to the nearest Telkom store and waited for someone to test the router. Luckily, it was the end of the day, and there was nobody in line. So we only had to wait 25 minutes for one of the 3 employees standing around doing nothing to acknowledge our existence. After a quick test, they confirmed the router was fine. Now the only possible explanation is there's a problem with the Telkom line, which I had been trying to tell them all along!

Actual image of me waiting for Telkom
Vicki decided to try her luck now, and she was told that a technician would come the following day. She called in the morning, just to make sure, because by now we had figured out that anything Telkom says has as much value as a Donald Trump fart in California, and was reassured that yes, the technician would come that day. At 4pm, she called AGAIN and was guaranteed someone would come before 6pm. 6pm came and went, and no Telkom. At least we expected it this time. When I called the next morning, the agent told me that while a fault was logged, there was no technician assigned to the account, so there was no way any technician would EVER have been on the way. In other words, the agents twice told Vicki that someone was coming simply so they could get off the phone and not have to do any work. Sounds about right.

At this point, the agent put me through to a manager, who assured me she would escalate the issue and get a technician out as soon as possible. When I asked when that would be, her only reply was "This is a very busy time of year." So now we wait.

While this whole process may seem insane to my friends back home in Canada, we've come to expect this sort of thing. Telkom was voted the best communications company in South Africa by South Africans, who make a national pastime of complaining about Telkom, if that tells you anything. I've gone past the point of being amused. And also past the point of being frustrated. Now I'm back to being amused. You can't hurry South Africa. And to be honest, sometimes it's refreshing to not be able to do anything because your hands are tied by red tape and incompetence. It gives me more time to appreciate the beauty of the country and enjoy the other things (apart from customer service) that South Africa has to offer. But I'll write more about those things in future entries.

As soon as I get internet.


  1. If only past Phil could know what future Phil knows.... how soon Telkom will show up....

    1. I'm glad I didn't know! Then I would have had to come up with something else to blog about. Like the fact wearing jeans in this heat makes my thighs chafe. And nobody needs to hear about that in any sort of detail.