Why do we need titles for service?

2011-11-19 12:09

At a nurses’ summit which took place in Sandton, northern Joburg, earlier this year, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi related an intriguing story that has sadly become a common feature of our times.

A friend of Motsoaledi’s collapsed while they were playing sport. The minister rushed his friend to the nearest hospital for urgent medical attention. Once Motsoaledi had filled in all the forms, he wheeled his friend to the ward to see a doctor.

There, a young nurse received the health minister’s friend but asked Motsoaledi to stand outside. Motsoaledi said he wanted to give the nurse all the information about his friend, leading to his collapse, but she did not want to listen to all that. “Don’t worry, sir,” she told him, “the doctor will examine him.”

When Motsoaledi insisted that she hear the information so she could pass it on to the doctor, she became visibly annoyed. “Are you trying to tell me how to do my job?” she barked at him. “No, I’m not trying to do that,” he replied, then pleaded: “At least if you’re not prepared to listen to [me], then call the doctor so I can explain to him.”

Only later was the whole thing sorted out with management, who had to apologise profusely to the minister.

You would have thought that the impossible nurse also apologised when she heard who she had been rude to but you’d be wrong. “Why didn’t he tell me he was the minister?” she wanted to know. So only if he had identified himself, would she have respected him.

Is this, then, the level we have degenerated to as a nation where, in order to get service, a person must have an impressive title? Motsoaledi said he was not prepared to use his title to get the nurses to listen to him. He asked the delegates: “What about all those people who don’t have any titles? Does it mean they will not receive any service from those who are paid to provide that service?”

As a former nurse, I found this story very instructive in terms of the prevailing attitudes that ordinary people have to deal with when trying to access services.

Earlier this year, a Talk Radio 702 listener called to say that he is very happy that he is white as he has seen that black people, wanting help, are treated atrociously by their own kind.

When I heard him, my initial response was to accuse the guy of being an insensitive jerk. But later on, as more listeners phoned in to express their views, I revised my opinion.

What he was saying was true. There are indeed many people employed to help others, who just would not do their job. In the instances where they drag themselves along to help you, they do it with such a rotten attitude that you wish you could go somewhere else to get the help you need.

What’s more, the guy was spot on when he said it’s the black tellers, black nurses, black doctors, black cashiers at supermarkets, black sales people, black social workers and black shopkeepers who treat fellow black people with utter and cruel disdain.

Think about it: how many times have you witnessed a young professional shouting at a person much older than them?

I can’t speak with any authority when it comes to other communities, but I do know we black people generally place a high premium on respect. When a youngster is disrespectful to his elders, we immediately wonder what their parents taught them.

This is because respect, along with ubuntu, is like a religion to us black folks. Let’s hope we never lose that, for it is our heritage both as a people and as a nation.

» Kamzolo is a social commentator

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