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Dear Telkom

By Danny Glenwright

Dear Telkom,

You dirty old monopoly, you. You really got me.

I’m actually writing to congratulate you. You were in the running for a few weeks but today I made it official. You have taken the prize for the poorest service I’ve ever received. And considering I’m a journalist who has lived, travelled and worked in more than 40 countries — 20 or so in Africa — this is no mean feat.

It started out so well. You were recommended to me by a fellow Canadian friend when I moved to South Africa in July. She said for what I wanted (landline and home internet) you were the best (and only) option. Looking back on the past few months knowing you, as I put the word “best” on paper to describe you, I almost expect the Word document I’m writing this on to underline it in green and tell me it’s a fragment (consider revising).

Going back to that day in August when I first met one of the many unfriendly, unhelpful Telkom staff I’d grow to become familiar with, I suppose I should’ve guessed what I was in for when I was told it would take up to one month to process my application for a landline. When I lived in the occupied Palestinian territories it took me less than a week — and Palestine is a war zone. But what could I do, I had no choice.

When, eventually, my landline was due to be connected one month later, I learned about your strange working hours. I had to take vacation time from work because I was told Telkom staff only work Monday to Friday from 8am till 5pm — the exact same work hours as me. And of course you don’t take appointments, it’s your choice when your staff show up (if they do). So I took a precious day off to wait for you. I had no choice.

Then I had to apply for the internet, which I was told could also take up to one month. When I moved to Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, I had working internet set up within one week. It took you more than two months.

But the fun only began once I was up and running. Because up and running for you, I learned, is actually down and crawling. At this point it was the end of September, I had been in South Africa for more than two months and I still had no working landline or internet. Although your staff swore up and down you were connected and working, you were not.

The last weekend of September was a special time for us. I hadn’t spent an entire weekend with someone in months. I hadn’t spent so much money (Vodacom airtime) on someone in years. That weekend I learned that your “customer service” after-hours phone numbers (and there are so many of them) play only one horrible song on repeat while the poor sods who are forced to phone these lines sit and wait. I spent two hours listening to it on Friday night, three hours on Saturday morning humming along, and two more hours on Sunday morning wanting to slit my wrists. Nobody ever answered. I decided it might be faster if I got in my car and drove to the nearest Telkom store for help.

But your employees do not speak the language of fast. I was given another five-digit number and told they could do nothing for me, keep calling. Eventually someone answered and I spent one hour chatting to him, trying to solve my problems. He agreed I had many problems, gave me a reference, and told me he could do no more to help.

By this time I had myself quite a nice collection of Telkom reference numbers, but I still had no working internet or phone. I decided to lodge an official complaint with your complaints department. I was assured someone would call me the following day to sort me out. One week later I had heard nothing.

Telkom, I wanted to give you another chance, I really did. So the following weekend I tried calling again. Again no answer. Again that same song. Again I drove to the mall. This time there was a big sign on the door in scribbled black felt pen: “System down, come back tomorrow.”

Ah Telkom, you seem to have so many problems. I began to think I should also look into a carrier pigeon like the one which last year delivered 4GB of data faster than you.

It was at this time I received a Telkom bill in the mail. You were charging me R1 363.97 for services rendered. In our long and tumultuous relationship, Telkom, this was the moment I will always remember when I first started to really dislike you. You see, I had no choice.

I lodged another complaint. It was mid-October. I was assured, again, that someone would call. No one did. I still had no working internet and phone. One week later I called back. I was told by the person who eventually answered that someone in her family had died and she was too upset to deal with my complaint, could she call me back the following day? Of course, I said. But that day came and went and no one called. At this point, Telkom, you must agree it was getting a bit farcical.

Then one day at the end of October five different Telkom staff phoned me over the course of four hours. All of them asked me the same questions, interrupting my work day over and over.

“Do you have working internet and phone?”


“Has it ever worked?”


It seems your various employees are as disconnected from one another as my phone line is from my ADSL.

The last person asked me this string of questions and then asked for my landline number. I told him. He then said he’d been trying to reach me on that number for days. I asked him how he expected to reach me on that number when I’d just told him it had never worked. I slapped my forehead for him. I had no choice.

Someone came out the following day to fix things. I took more time off work. Miracle of miracles, my phone and internet were functional for almost a full 24 hours (although the internet speed reminded me of my days in Freetown), but then they both ceased again. I started the process over. I had no choice.

Telkom, I have now been in South Africa for four months. In that time I have had a working landline and home internet for no more than four days yet I have received two bills from you asking for my money. Telkom, even the guys who wash windows at South African robots provide a service. I’m still waiting for you to provide one. I have no choice.

Sincerely yours,

Unconnected and unreachable in Johannesburg