Sketches by Dries de Beer

Dealing with bureaucracy is often challenging on any level or front. So when during some of our most stressful times, you happen to bump into individuals who not only do their work well but seem to make the effort to help you as best they can, it changes the nature of how you view the world. Often they aren’t in top positions so they cannot make all the decisions, but they will make sure that the path is smooth for you to achieve whatever you need to get done. DIANE DE BEER highlights some of her personal heroes of the past few months:

My sister who lives   London and left the country in 1975 was back home for a three month visit. One of our first tasks was a visit to Home Affairs with a request for a new South African passport and ID.

I knew that this would be no small ask and was gritting my teeth from the start, but also determined that we would see this through and that there would be a way.

She has American citizenship, but didn’t want to relinquish her South African links. Dual citizenship was also necessary for certain practicalities.

We arrived early at Home Affairs, which I was already familiar with because I have been helping one of my employees, who we discovered to our dismay, doesn’t have any documentation. Yes, he is a South African and has been working for us for a long, long time, but my husband and I were both working all our lives and were unaware that he didn’t have any documentation … don’t ask. I was given a severe public scrubbing by a Home Affairs official.

Nevertheless, I was hopeful. Our first encounter was short and sweet in the sense that we were given the name of a head office employee and a phone number.

Just a little background. My sister had been to the South African equivalent in London and her ID and passport applications had been handed in a few years back. Regular visits to check on progress offered no hope and this is why she decided to return to source.

As we started our journey back home, we immediately phoned the number we were given to get the process started. This was in the first week of December last year. Her details were again taken with promises that the matter would be taken up with the London offices.

There was much toing and froing, too much detail to bore you with, but all of it seemed very hopeful. Phones were always answered and slowly the case was making progress. One of these was the information that her new ID had been processed and was waiting for collection at the London offices. Why she wasn’t told this or given the document at her last visit was unclear and we let it go. She will collect the ID now that she is back in London.

In the meantime, the passport became the priority and one of the issues was a visit we were planning in the new year to Mozambique. A South African rather than an American passport would mean no visa and we had also discovered that these would only be given when making the crossing into Mozambique, which could mean hours wasted. We couldn’t simply get it at their Pretoria offices. It seemed a very random decision, but they were very clear that it was the only way.

So our journey continued. In the meantime Christmas arrived and I decided not to bother our contact in the week before New Year. It just didn’t seem likely to my mind that anything would happen.

Instead she phoned us, reporting progress! To make a long story short. Our interaction and the progress with our Home Affairs contact was miraculous. From the start, our feelings were positive. It just seemed that this was an individual who was going to make this happen – and she did.

There were a few requests like filling in a new passport, for example, and writing a few notes so that our request for her to collect her passport at the local Home Affairs rather than in London was explained. The letter was even dictated, so that we would get all the wording right!

And never was any favour asked. And the only reason I am saying this is that stories abound how ordinary work only gets done in certain public and private enterprises if the worker is compensated in some way.

Not here. There was such fear from her side of any impropriety that we haven’t yet met her just to say thank-you in person. In the end, my sister collected her passport which she duly used in her crossing to Mozambique and we both lost our hearts to our Home Affairs saviour.

The only reason I am not using her name is to save her any embarrassment or long lines forming in front of her office with others lodging complaints.

Whenever I tell the story, I am inundated with cries of help from others who want their passport or ID problems resolved.

We struck it lucky, I know. But I also know that she cannot be the only one. And in a time when everyone is complaining about everything that goes wrong, she restored our faith in the civil service and the many gems that might be hidden in those government offices.

The fact that they are there was also confirmed when a friend and I did our regular renewal of driving licences, also in December. And this time I will give the name.

On a previous occasion, my husband had renewed his driver’s licence in the Cape because Gauteng’s system was in such disarray. But this time I was getting good reports about the offices in Echo Park, Centurion. This was the route we decided to go.

I made my appointment, but my friend decided to tag along, not having managed a booking. The building was in one of those office developments one sees from the highway between Tshwane and Joburg, not knowing who works there.

We found our way there with some directions, and once parked, we wound our way to what we expected would be a long queue. Not so.

Our police service was employed here and they were working according to a streamlined plan which had everyone smiling as they left the offices and again when they came to collect their licences. Not only did these young policemen all smile magnificently as they helped some of us less efficient with forms on our way, it took less time to get in and out than it took us to get there.

Some time ago this particular service was in a shambles and I can remember reports of corruption even about getting appointments. That isn’t happening anymore. I cannot vouch for any of the other offices in Gauteng but I do know that on two occasions – both of them huge – my faith in our country and the way things could and should be run, was restored.

I have never paid a bribe and I hope never to be in a situation where I feel there’s no other option. And with these two encounters, I know it is possible to make what could have been really tough situations (if not impossible), joyous.

Just keep looking, you will find someone who will help when they should.

PS: Following this writing, I had two more service hero encounters!

They might seem small in comparison, yet they added a sparkle and a huge smile to my day. The first was a grocery shopping trip to my local grocery store Uitkyk in Silverton Pretoria.

Frans Madula diligently at his post.

I have become accustomed to their custom of having two employees checking slips and groceries every time you purchase anything, but this time something was different. Having bought only a few items, I was surprised that the bill was more than R600, but I was distracted and didn’t complete the thought in my head. It was only when my trolley and purchases were checked by the alert Frans Madula, that my suspicions were confirmed. But for his quick eye, I would have paid double the amount my groceries cost!

It was a simple error, 22 rather than two tins of sardines were charged to my account but luckily for me, it was spotted and caught.

At a different store, Builders Express at Gift Acres, I found some swimming pool floaters at the best price I could find. When I got to the till where I was helped by a friendly employee whose nametag aptly read Queen. She pointed out that I could only get that specific special price if I owned a loyalty card.

No problem, she said, she would quickly register me. It was a tedious process, but she had no problem doing what she felt was her job.

And while people were piling into the queue behind me where my purchases were prolonging the process, two women slipped in behind two empty tills to prevent everyone’s impatience.

I didn’t notice anyone guiding this process in any way. These were simply employees who were well trained and who knew how to make the shopping process a smooth one – for everyone.