Saturday, July 14, 2018

Welcome to Apartheid 2.0

Several decades ago a South African leader at his trial: "There is only one race: the Human race." No it was not Nelson Mandela, although he would have agreed wholeheartedly. It was Robert Sobukwe. He was imprisoned on Robben Island in solitary confinement because his views so directly undermined and threatened the very existence of Apartheid.
Apartheid is based on the lie of racism. There is no scientific justification for race classification at all. This was recently demonstrated by a National Geographic cover of twins who appear to be of different races but who have the same parents and were born on the same day. Racist attitudes and colonial notions of racial superiority were reinforced by Darwin who gave Hitler's master race ideas the veneer of scientific legitimacy. So too the ideas behind Apartheid and the notion of "separate but equal" races were built on this odious lie.

The fact of the matter is that every human being on the planet comes from the same gene pool, and this upsets a lot of the anti-colonial rhetoric that says that "settlers" from Europe are not African and are therefore not welcome. The fact of the matter is that we are all African.
Those of us who opposed Apartheid did so because we knew that racism was wrong and ungodly. Man is created in the image of God, and this applies equally to all human beings. People like Beyers Naude endured a lot of persecution in his own church because he told them that Apartheid was a heresy and the church needed to repent of its racism and support for Apartheid. People like Desmond Tutu and Trevor Huddlestone spoke out against the injustices of Apartheid, including crimes against humanity like Forced Removals, job reservation and unequal education. One of the common themes among all anti-Apartheid groups and organisations was the notion that we were fighting for a non-racial South Africa, where the colour of one's skin no longer played any part in the life of the nation.
We wrote into our Constitution that "South Africa belongs to all who live in it" because we were conscious of how many people in the past were evicted from their homes or treated as unwelcome in the country of their birth. We abolished the Population Registration Act and removed the digits in the South African ID number that indicated our race. We elected our first truly democractic President Nelson Mandela, who repeated over and over that the South African government was working for ALL South Africans. Until it wasn't.

"Go back to your Homeland"

Somewhere along the line our politicians started focusing once again on race. Not just blaming all their current mistakes on racism and Apartheid and our colonial history, but using racist solutions to attempt to rectify racist problems. The more they felt the heat for their incompetence and corruption, the more they started beating the race drums, stirring up racial tensions and promoting Xenophobia. some of them colluded with PR agencies to come up with rhetoric about "White Monopoly Capital", while others just incited riots against Somalis, Kenyans, Mozambicans, Zimbabweans, and Nigerians, who they claimed were "introducing crime" or "stealing jobs" from local people.
The sad fact of the matter is that generally immigrants are more willing to work harder for lower wages and longer hours than the local residents, who feel "entitled" to cushy jobs that magically appear from nowhere. They see how lazy civil servants get away with poor performance and think that is the norm. I spoke to a hotel manager who wanted to employ locals within walking distance of his hotel, but gave up because they were lazy and unreliable. He employs people whose homes are hundreds of km away, but who are grateful for the job and willing to work. The salary and working conditions are the same, just the attitude is different. And they all live within the borders of the country.
You know things are getting bad when Somalis start talking about returning to their war-ravaged country rather than put up with the xenophobic hostility here. The ANC and PAC were given shelter and support by African countries almost without exception, yet we repay their support of our struggle by murdering their refugees.

Job Reservation and Race

Our constitution guarantees equal rights for all, yet our government thinks that this must be achieved by manipulating race quotas in industry to ensure that "previously disadvantaged communities" are given more opportunities. This noble idea is translated to crude race classification and jobs for pals as follows: companies must come up with "Employment Equity" quotas, and employ people accordingly, or face fines and other sanctions. So it boils down to employing more black people, assuming you can find candidates suitably qualified for the job. Of course this leads to the "chicken and egg" problem because where do you find experienced people unless someone else employed them first?
So you end up having to employ someone black who isn't experienced at the same salary as an experienced person. Until the new employee gets the hang of the job and doesn't make too many costly mistakes, their salary is costing the company money. So the company has to decide whether to run the risk of being fined, or run the risk of overpaying an inexperienced person instead. Big companies can absorb the slack, smaller companies can't. Often the companies that do take the risk of employing a black manager are rewarded by the person leaving after a year or so because they are offered a better paying job somewhere else by another company more desperate for the "right" employment equity numbers.
So during Apartheid we had jobs reserved for particular races. Now we have a different focus on the racial makeup of a company, but its racial nonetheless. It extends to the ownership and shareholding of the company too. Companies who supply services to government have to be "BEE Compliant" and are encouraged to have Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) credentials as well. Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) was supposed to be a short term fix to address the racial inequalities of the past. It's now permanent, so that job seekers born after 1994 entering the workplace are puzzled and insulted to be asked what their race is.
Not only when they go for a job interview, but when they apply to any educational institution they have to provide their race, gender, nationality, disability status and residence status on the application form. Any institution requiring accreditation needs to be able to provide these figures to the Council for Higher Education twice a year. I was given the odious task of extracting and collating this data for one of my clients. The CHED claims it is for statistical purposes only, but they can remove the accreditation from any institution they think is being racially exclusive. To hell with the rights of the students: they must just suck it up and be forced to disclose their "race" even if they don't like it. They can't answer "100m" or "human" when asked for their race.
In government there is also the concept of Cadre Deployment, another term for "jobs for pals" or "jobs for sale". There are plenty of documented cases of people desperate for jobs who have to bribe a party or union official to be considered for a job. Never mind exploitation of the poor, self-enrichment is far more important.

State Owned Enterprises

The Apartheid government not only embraced the racist ideology of the Nazis, but the economic ones as well. They used National Socialism as a means to build the country and employ as many white Afrikaners as possible. As an English-speaking white person I was never included in the "Volk en Vaderland" when it came to jobs or political influence, but I was expected to put my life on the line to "defend" the country from "communists", even if they were English-speaking communists like Joe Slovo or Peter Hain. They developed the Post Office to provide postal and telephone services, the South African Broadcasting Corporation to provide radio entertainment and propaganda to counter the opinions in the newspaper industry, ISCOR to make steel, the South African Railways and Harbours to provide transport, SANRAL to maintain the roads, South African Airways and The Airports Company to look after aviation, and so on. SASOL devised a way of turning coal into a petroleum industry, which was most useful to counter sanctions, and ESKOM used coal and other technologies to generate electricity.
The ANC, being the ruling party and liberation movement, decided that these State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) were a great place to provide jobs for pals and contracts for party members. In their infinite wisdom they also decided that South Africa wouldn't need any new power stations (until suddenly it did) and so we experienced "load shedding" which led to "job shedding" until the demand for electricity dropped to meet the inadequate supply. ESKOM was never that efficient to start off with, but it is now bloated with far too many employees earning far too much money and producing far too little. The country simply cannot sustain the level of incompetence and looting that has been going on in the SOEs, hence our credit downgrade.
Few if any of the SOEs make a profit any more, and the ones that are profitable are largely run as business enterprises and not government departments. One of the big complaints during Apartheid was that government departments simply didn't care about ordinary people, and were bloated and ineffective. The people in those departments and SOEs may have changed, but the results are exactly the same.

Bantu Education

The Apartheid regime spawned an inferior education system for blacks. The idea was to provide only basic literacy and a strong emphasis on punishment and discipline. It was such a glaringly obvious injustice that everyone opposed to Apartheid agreed that the system needed to change. The South African Democratic Teachers' Union (SADTU) organised among teachers and campaigned for an end to the "Education Crisis" in SA schools. When the ANC took over the running of the country in 1994 it was no surprise that they wanted to make changes to the education system. But they threw the baby out with the bathwater, closing down all the "Bantustan" teacher training colleges instead of upgrading them. Then they introduced Outcomes Based Education (OBE) that was so badly implemented that it ruined the education of a decade of children.
In the meantime SADTU gained influence in the education departments and started a system of patronage, where teachers would have to PAY union officials for posts in schools. Even after OBE was abandoned, the decline of the education system continued. Not just the teaching quality (rural schools spend half as much time on average teaching as urban schools) but the logistics too. School textbooks found languishing in storerooms, children being taught under trees because the buildings were dilapidated or burnt down, and pupils drowning in pit latrines. The liberation movement that had the slogan "liberation before education" now continues to fail the children of today with poor education quality, ineptitude, mismanagement and corruption. One gets the impression that the ANC wants to keep the population ignorant, unemployable and dependent on the state for everything. A good way to retain votes, but at what cost to the stability and future of the country. Instead, we need to be teaching our children "I am a job creator not a job seeker".

Forced Removals

One of the worst excesses of Apartheid was the notion that people should live in different areas based on their race. Not only within homelands, but every platteland dorp or town has a township down the road that is economically dependent on the town for municipal services, shops and jobs, but houses most of the people. It will take a while for this to change, but so far all we have managed to do is make most of the municipalities go bankrupt and provide even fewer services than before. Many private sector businesses dependent on municipal services like water and electricity have closed too, and their owners have sought better opportunities in bigger towns or cities.
Just when things couldn't get any worse, the ruling party decided to change its tune on land ownership, all in the name of "Radical Economic Transformation" which is best described as racial socialism. They have decided that since the land redistribution process has "failed", they need to force the issue by expropriating land without the obligation to compensate the owner. Never mind that the government has a bigger budget for VIP protection than land redistribution, or that 90% of all farms transferred to their new black owners have failed to remain productive. So the new landowners end up starving or growing subsistence crops only. One or two exceptions have been trumpeted in the media, but most expropriated farms are still owned by the state and are in a shambles.
Expropriation Without Compensation makes a bad situation worse, because it leads to the financial ruin of the person being expropriated, and forces him off the land. Exactly the same as forced removals. The Apartheid regime expropriated land from white farmers to "consolidate" homeland boundaries, and in some cases they forcibly evicted these farmers, but they were at least compensated to some extent. Black victims of forced removals weren't given a cent.
Now the political rabble-rousers have come up with a fresh round of racist propaganda stating that ALL land in South Africa was STOLEN from the original BLACK inhabitants of the land by WHITE SETTLERS. Not only is this racist bullshit completely unscientific, but it is historically inaccurate as well. Add to this the inconvenient problem caused by physics: the perpetrators of these "crimes" are long since dead. So their "crimes" are visited on their "descendants" both real and imagined. A new state is granting itself the power to uproot a new bunch of people (mostly framers to begin with, but it won't end there) and toss them off their property without compensation. No one has explained what will happen to their bonds with the bank, or how they will be compensated for the buildings and improvements they may have made to the land. That is all drowned in the angry voices demanding retribution for the sins of the past, and providing justice for no one.

Entitlement and Privilege

I grew up in a country where my skin colour entitled me to various benefits and privileges. This was tempered by my parents and grandparents who taught me that racism was wrong and I should treat everyone with respect. My dad started in a lowly job on the gold mines and he slowly rose through the ranks until he was a mine manager. He was determined to provide me and my two brothers with a private school education, even though he could have used the money for fancy holidays and sent me to a state school. So I was able to get a university education, something he never had. But together with this privilege came responsibility. I felt responsible for the good running of the country and the economy, and for the plight of the people who were being deprived in their own country.
When I arrived at Natal University and realised that the problems were much bigger than I thought, I was forced to make hard choices about right and wrong, and I refused to serve in the Apartheid military, since I could not justify the killing of another human being, let alone someone from my own country.
Today on social media there are a lot of shouting angry voices who (wrongly) assume that ALL WHITES are racist, and that if your name sounds "white" then you must have been a supporter and beneficiary of Apartheid and therefore you must shut up and sit down and not say a word. You are no longer welcome here. Never mind "South Africa belongs to all who live in it", you must just leave your money behind and go back to wherever your settler ancestors came from. Such hatred and bitterness will hardly improve the lives of anyone, except the looting leaders who will keep looting until it's all gone.
They fail to realize they are being manipulated by greedy leaders who want to retain their power by blaming their failures on others. During Apartheid the problems were all blamed on the "communists" and "agitators" (i.e. people who speak English) who "stirred up the blacks" into "black-on-black violence". Now all our problems are blamed on "Apartheid racism" and the "colonial legacy" (i.e. people who speak English). Now we must "decolonise" our universities (i.e. get rid of the white lecturers) and engage in "economic transformation" (i.e. employ more blacks in a diminishing number of jobs) while chasing away the "colonial settlers" who brought the jobs in the first place.
It seems that all rationality and good sense is being thrown out of the window. Welcome to Apartheid 2.0

Friday, April 06, 2018

Stretchly: the smart way to use your computer

We all sit too long, and if you are like me, stare at the computer screen for far too long. On 10th February I injured my back, and one of the discs in my spine started pinching my left Sciatic nerve. I was on anti-inflammatory medication and pain killers for a few weeks. Sitting, standing, walking and lying down were all uncomfortable if I did any of them for too long.
A friend sent me a video about how bad too much sitting is (see some examples below), and my new experience confirmed this. Then I was told about a program that would interrupt you on the computer and force you to take regular breaks. One of these is Stretchly, and it works wonders!
It's free, open source software that works for Windows, Mac and Linux. Every now and then you are asked to take a "microbreak" of a few seconds, and there are helpful tips to suggest how to take the break. And then about every 30 minutes or so you should take a proper break from the computer. Get up and walk around, and give your back a chance to recover from all the unhealthy sitting (and slouching in my case).
To force you to take the break it puts a big box right in the middle of the screen. The microbreaks only last for a few seconds, but the full break is 5 minutes. Most chiropractors will tell you to take a break from sitting at least every 30 minutes, and Stretchly helps you do this. If you leave your desk for more than 5 minutes before the enforced break, it resets its timers for you. And once the enforced break is up, it sounds a helpful chime to tell you the time is up, so you don't waste time or have to stand around checking the screen.
Since we can only concentrate fully for up to 20 minutes at a time, these breaks actually make you more productive, because they help you regain focus and think about what you are doing. I was apprehensive about this at first, but I find my code is much less buggy and more well thought out because of the enforced breaks. There are plenty of useful features in the program, and if you are going to watch a movie or you need to connect to a client's computer for remote support, you can pause the program for a while. There are plenty of options you can tweak to get it to work just right for you. Check it out!
One final idea from the 4th video below: stand up every time you take a call or use your phone. Great idea. Put the phone somewhere other than your desk to make this happen. It will also reduce your exposure to the radiation from the phone. But that's another story for another day.
Update 19 May: Thanks to feedback from the developer, I discovered that you can change the messages that Stretchly displays, so I was able to add in the exercises that my Bio-Kineticist has recommended. I also found an Android app called "Big Ben Bonger" that plays the Big Ben chimes on my phone. I can set it to go off every half hour when I'm working on other people's computers.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Telkom's R500 per month ripoff on a R229 FreeMe mobile contract

On 31st August I went to the Telkom store in Cresta to get a new FreeMe 1GB cell phone contract. I had seen the advert in the City Press newspaper and noted the "Terms and Conditions" and "While Stocks Last" disclaimers. But a much bigger surprise was in store: R500 per month "extras" that are not mentioned in the Mobile Terms and Conditions or the Telkom Product Terms and Conditions for FreeMe Postpaid and TopUp or the Standard Terms and Conditions. But I digress.
Chad the helpful store assistant told me that he didn't have stock of the specific model, but he could offer me a similar deal on a Huawei P9 Lite black instead. That was fine, since it was only R10 per month more. He kept the phone aside for me and told me the credit check would take 72 hours. Since it was Thursday afternoon I figured that I would hear from them on Monday or Tuesday. Not a chance.
I tried calling the store. No answer. Do a google search for "Telkom Direct Cresta" and click on the Google Reviews. Most of the 67 reviews complain that they don't answer the phone. The manager of the store confirmed to me that it is company policy for them to not answer the phone. You have to go there in person. Never mind having to travel there and pay for parking. Imagine that: a telephone company that doesn't answer the phone! You can't make this s**t up.
So after getting no response from the store I contacted @TelkomZA on Twitter. The first time that didn't work. You have to put a hashtag in the Direct Message. Huh?

Finally I could go back to the store on Friday a week later. That's 72 hours if you only count the store opening hours, not the normal idea of 72 hours being 3 working days.
So now I'm back at the store and I figure that I've overcome the hurdles of getting a phone model I like and getting the credit check done. All we have to do is fill out the paperwork, sign it and take the phone home. I told Chad that I was only interested in the contract price, and wasn't prepared to pay for extra charges. No problem, we would set the credit limit to zero. He said nothing about a "Spend Limit" of R500 per month, nor did he say anything about the fact that the default is R500 for the first month and you can't change it for the first month. I only found that out in November.
Chad explained that the first invoice would be pro-rata for September and the full month of October. No problem, I said, that would be around R460. He printed out 4 pages for me, including an invoice for the handset with its serial number, and 3 pages of my credit application. He had transposed my name and surname, so we fixed that and I left with the phone.
By the end of October I hadn't received a bill from Telkom Mobile, so I called their automated enquiry line and was told that my invoice was R447, payable on 5th November. That sounded like the right ballpark figure so imagine my shock when on the night of 6th November they deducted R931.90!
I called Telkom at 7.30am to find out what was going on. That's when they told me about the R500 "Spend Limit" and I told them that I had insisted that it be set to zero. He also said that I would have to go back to the store to sort it out, because he couldn't help me with store matters on the phone. Surreal.

So I went to the store on Tuesday morning 7th November. The store opened late because they were too busy taking a group selfie inside than worrying about the queue of customers waiting outside.
Chad wasn't there (how convenient) but I spoke to another assistant and called the store manager over. I started by asking him why his store doesn't answer their phone. He mumbled something about it being company policy and gave me a different number to try. It doesn't work. I complained that I had still not received the October invoice via email, but the November invoice had arrived and it was for R1667.90. How was this possible on a contract for R229 per month. He tried to tell me about the R500 Spend Limit and I pointed out that I had specified a ZERO credit limit when I signed the contract. We opened case number 21643735 and I told them I wanted a refund. They also printed out the October and November invoices. They told me that they could only adjust the Spend Limit effective on 1st December, because it was now already November. I told them that I was not paying for any of the extra expenses because I had specifically instructed Chad to set the credit limit on ZERO, and the documents he gave me showed that this had been done.
So the first case number gets "resolved" but all they did was pass me a credit for R500. No refund, no explanation. I had to call them again to find out what was going on. That phone call took 20 minutes and achieved nothing. Basically the call centre's attitude is that you must go to the store. And the store's attitude is that you must contact the call centre. Imagine that. The "S" in Telkom definitely stands for Service.
Consider how the whole "deal" is structured: You sign up for a R229 per month contract, but you get a R500 "Spend Limit" that is in place from day 1 and you can't change it for the first month. It's not mentioned anywhere in the terms and conditions so if the salesperson doesn't tell you about it you get caught for the second month too. Invoices are issued dated 1st of each month, but my 1st October invoice wasn't ever sent. Even if I had seen it on the 1st October and realised that they were charging me for R500 usage that I didn't authorise, by then it's too late to stop it for October, you can only stop it for November.
In my case the first I knew about the R500 Spend Limit was on 6th November when it was rudely grabbed from my account. By then it was too late to do anything about September or October, and they could only stop it for 1st December. In onne of my many calls to their call centre I learnt that there is a default setting on their web site that would help reduce the extra charges. But it is turned off by default. That's because the whole scam is designed to catch the unwary or ignorant customer. It's been cleverly crafted by the crooks at Telkom to fleece their customers.
The "Out of Bundle Redirect" is switched off by default. If you switch it on then when the phone runs out of data, it redirects you to a page where you can buy more data. The default is "Never redirect, carry on browsing using my airtime. OOB rates apply", instead of "Always redirect service to OOB page". So when I found out about this page in November I was able to prevent the phone using additional data, but this didn't stop it from generating extra billing items by making calls. And it turns out that calls from Telkom Mobile to 1023 Directory Enquiries, are charged at R5 per call. That's a VAS rate call, but of course you don't find that out until the invoice arrives. Another part of their evil scheme.
Then they try the oldest trick in the book with mobile phones: you were using the phone so you are responsible for the charges. Or variations on the theme. What they fail to grasp is that I am not the user of the phone. The phone is used by a sales rep who works for commission only. I am merely the account holder. So I will not be held responsible for charges that I didn't authorize and are not part of the contract.
One other thing: unlike a Telkom land line contract, which you can pay in every month, the Telkom Mobile contract only works on a debit order, where they deduct the money from your account. And they think they can deduct whatever they like. And if you reverse a deduction they can claim that you have invalidated the contract. We'll see. I reversed the R931.90 amount because they were not authorized to deduct that amount. Let's see what they do next.
Today I went back to the Telkom Store in Cresta, and spoke to the manager again. I explained (again) that I wanted a refund of the remaining R510 charges that I had not authorized, and asked why they weren't refunded the first time. He wanted to blame the billing department but I was having none of it. So now we have another reference number and another round of waiting.
I also challenged him to produce the part of the terms and consitions that specify the R500 Spend Limit but he was unable and unwilling to do so. He said he would get the Telkom Legal Department to send it so me. This should be interesting.
In the meantime I am drafting a letter to the Advertising Standards Authority to put a stop to this nonsense. If they don't advertise the R500 Spend Limit, they should be forced to withdraw it, and refund all those who inadvertently got ripped off in the process.
Update 12th December: Logged case number 22057592 with the Manager of the Cresta branch
Update 13th December: I discovered two different versions of the Telkom Mobile Subscriber Terms and Conditions. Neither one uses the term "Spend Limit".
Update 22nd December: Case number 22057592 still not attended to. Got a demand to pay R1160.90 to avoid the service being suspended. @TelkomZA responds to inquiry:

Update 2 January 2018: You can't make this stuff up. I dialled their help line and this is what I get:
There's always a pleasnat surprise on my Telkom invoice. This month its the outrageous R200.94 debit order "Payment Rejection fee". They think they can just deduct whatever they like.

Update 2 Feb 2018: It turns out that I was given a postpaid contract instead of a TopUp contract, so I had to go back to the Telkom Cresta Shop for a third time to fix it. And "Chad" doesn't work there any more. Why am I not surprised?
Update 8 Feb 2018: If you reverse a debit order, or the debit order fails, they charge you R200.94, even though this amount is not listed on their Tariff Card. If you pay in the R200.94 during the month, the balance of that month's invoice isn't deducted by debit order at the end of the month as it is supposed to. Instead, nothing is deducted, but the balance is carried over to the following month. Of course the Terms and Conditions are silent about this too. Nothing makes sense with the Telkom Accounts department.

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