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Service, please

It’s sad to see how little our public servants care about their jobs. And here I’m specifically referring to the little people, not the ministers or heads of department. These are the men and women who man counters, operate cash registers, print licences and take thumbprints.

I recently had the misfortune of having to renew my driver’s licence and my car’s licence disc on the same day. It involved two-and-a-half hours of queuing — ample time to read about half of Terry Pratchett’s Wintersmith, which is a very funny book indeed. Between suppressed gales of laughter, I observed our not-always-so-helpful public servants at their posts.

Greeting customers seemed to be banned, and smiling at someone was definitely a no-no. I tried my hand at light banter, only to be greeted by stony-faced expressions.

Their lack of interest in their workplace also showed in the badly spelled, badly photocopied signs stuck randomly on peeling walls with yellowing cellotape. Little things, sure, but they do add up to the image of crumbling government buildings staffed by surly civil servants.

But can one blame them? The recent public-service strike brought our public servants’ measly salaries to everyone’s attention. It’s hard to be cheery when you’re earning peanuts. For most of these people, I’m sure, stamping papers and checking IDs is just a way to feed their kids; a way to get through another month of living in near poverty.

And face it, taking the thumbprints and printing the licence forms of hundreds of people day in, day out is nothing but a soul-killing occupation.

There are, thankfully, exceptions to the rule: a handful of friendly and helpful staffers who don’t treat their customers like dirt.

Still, do they realise that fewer members of the public would scream and shout and threaten loudly if they received friendly, helpful service? Maybe their bosses need to act as better role models (which is a subject for a whole blog entry by itself). Just a little bit of positive attitude would go a long, long way.

Incidentally, today I received notice that my new driver’s licence is ready to be collected. On the back, it listed “Important information”:

1. You are herewith requested to collect your driver’s licence card … within ninety (90) days after the date of this notification.
2. Should the document not be collected … it will be destroyed in which event you will have to apply for a duplicate at your own expense.
3. At the collection of the document, it shall be essential that you produce … proof of your identity.

So far, so logical. Then, the last item of information:

4. Have you ever considered becoming an organ donor?


  • Riaan Wolmarans is a former editor, reader liaison, spell checker, general mechanic, morale officer and journalist at large at the Mail & Guardian Online.