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Dear Telkom, continued

By Danny Glenwright

Well old buddy, here we are again.

I was sort of hoping the last discussion would be our final heart-to-heart. Sadly, you’ve let me down again. And again, and again.

I must say you’ve outdone yourself this time. Just when I thought your service could get no worse, it has become shockingly so. And you have ruined another of my weekends, but this time a very important weekend, one I can’t really reclaim.

But let’s go back a bit, just for a little recap.

After I wrote you last I was surprised at the service I then received from your staff. It was the first time anyone from Telkom had ever been nice to me, never mind actually taken an interest in my myriad landline and internet problems.

I received a very pleasant email from someone in your upper ranks who told me he’d laughed at my dispatch to you but also found it quite sad and upsetting. I concurred. He kindly offered (although it wasn’t his actual job) to look into the issue and forwarded our correspondence to other good people in your organisation. I felt a bit better.

Your staff then spent the better part of a week falling over one another to sort out our problems. I was travelling with work but my partner said he wasn’t really able to leave the house that week because so many Telkom folks were coming by to assist, each enquiring if he’d been the one who wrote the article.

Strange what a strongly worded letter in a national newspaper will do. I was thrilled to finally receive some service from you but I did feel sorry for the millions of South Africans who don’t get your attention because they don’t publish their Telkom horror stories in newspapers. And it appears there are many Telkom horror stories (for a sampling see the comments section that followed my last note to you, or head to the nearest Telkom store: the places are usually chock-a-block with unhappy Telkom customers).

At this point things got better for us. For the first time in several months we had working landline and internet for more than four days, and then for more than one week, and then for more than two weeks — and miracle of miracles, it lasted almost one month.

But Telkom, it seemed things got worse for you. It was hard to open a paper or turn on the radio without finding some sad tale of your many woes. And I thought I had problems. Plummeting shares, corruption, and maladministration: I must admit I wasn’t all that surprised to hear any of it.

It was around this time I received an email from the same Telkom executive I mentioned above. He was requesting that, considering our services were finally working, I log onto the comments section under my letter to you and assure all the other troubled South African Telkom users (and Mail & Guardian readers) that at least there was one person who was now being taken seriously by you.

Telkom, I realised then how desperate your situation was if you needed little old me to provide the suffering masses with one sad case study of an angry customer put right.

However, I refused, stating that I’d be happy to leave such a comment as soon as my account was sorted out, considering I was still being charged for several months of sweet nothing.

That week another executive in your accounts department called me. I spent one hour on the phone with her, reading the six pages of complaints, reference numbers and problems I’d collected in the first five months of our relationship. She assured me she would phone me the following day and let me know how my account was being adjusted. She told me not to make any payments in the meantime. I never heard from her again. That was three weeks ago.

Fast forward to this past weekend, one I’d set aside to write my master’s thesis, which is due early next month. I felt confident that after some weeks of working internet I’d be able to spend some time researching online and making a real dent in the work.

But you got me again, you old bugger, you.

I woke up Saturday to no internet. Already a pro at this long-standing tradition of ours, Telkom, I then put in some time phoning your five digit “help” lines, listening to that classic piece of Telkom symphony played over and over again.

Dee dee dee dee, da da da da, La da da da, dee dee da da.

The first man I spoke with told me he was going to re-set my line and call me back. Two hours later, nothing. I called again.

The second man said it was a problem with the line; one that couldn’t be sorted until Monday. Apparently you were down everywhere, for repairs. I fumed, hung up, and called back.

The third man said our internet was capped at 5GB. We’d used it all. I told him that was impossible and that we’d upped our usage to 14GB because your internet seemed to run out as fast as my patience for your ineffective staff.

On the fourth try Sunday morning a lone competent Telkom employee managed to find the culprit. Our account had been re-set for some inexplicable reason and no one had informed us. She gave us a new username and password. I asked why the first three people had been so completely off the scent. She had no answer. “Seems they were looking at someone else’s account,” she said.

“Good thing I had the sense to call back four times,” I responded.

After putting some work in Sunday night, Monday morning the internet was off again. I called you again to find there was a long wait. The first person who answered hung up on me seconds after she picked up, following a 20-minute wait. The second time I was told to key in my number and someone would call me back. I did, but 30 minutes later no one had.

I called again. After two hours I finally reached a human being, who told me my account had been suspended because of an unpaid bill. I was told to call your accounts department.

I started the process again (see preceding two paragraphs). When I finally got through I was told by another charming Telkom employee that my account had been suspended because of an unpaid bill from the month before. The woman on the phone didn’t care that I’d been promised a credit, that no one had called me back, that the monthly bill in front of me was only due in eight days or that my thesis writing had already been postponed by three days because of our on again, off again romance.

So here we are, Telkom.

I have now taken more of my precious time to drive to the nearest Telkom store and put more money on our bill, which I still feel should have been credited. After all, no one on your staff has ever calculated the time, energy, petrol, 3G top-ups, cellphone airtime, work leave and stress that the last five months of this acrimonious relationship has used up.

I was told it will take 24 hours before my internet works again, if I’m lucky. Another day wasted. But I’m not surprised.

You see Telkom, I’ve learned with you that just when I think it can’t get any worse, it always does. But then again, you’d know all about that.

Happy holidays!

Yours always,

Unconnected in Johannesburg