Georgina Guedes

The privilege of not having to queue (much)

2016-03-04 13:30

Georgina Guedes

My husband is trying to sell his car. I say trying because it has been very trying indeed – and we haven’t yet succeeded.

The reason it’s all been so difficult is entirely our fault. Well, sort of. Because we (not our bank) owned the car, someone borrowed it a while back to take it to Mozambique. They had to take a letter of permission and the ownership papers.

Between us, we can’t work out whether they didn’t bring the papers back, or they did, and we didn’t file them. Either way, we’ve had to apply for new ownership papers. Which meant that my husband had to drive to Marlbourough. And which means we have to wait ten days.

Honestly, waiting for paperwork and having to drive around Johannesburg are a real schlep. This has caused a general bad mood in our house this week. Life is very hard sometimes. Also, there are mosquitoes and the pool is going green.

School fee subsidy

Another thing that has happened in the past week is that our domestic worker has had to apply for a fee subsidy at her son’s school, because she doesn’t earn a whole lot of money. To apply, she has had to produce not only a salary slip from me and a printout of three months’ bank statements from her bank, but also proof from the other four banks that she doesn’t hold an account with any of them.

Now, here’s the thing. Bianca has a fairly decent employer (that’s me, in case you weren’t paying attention). I like that her son lives with her – it makes me feel that I am not ripping a family apart by giving her a job. But it means that she is responsible for the day-to-day demands of motherhood – like meeting with school teachers or getting her child to a doctor if he’s unwell.

Because I am not a terrible human being and also a mother, I don’t make her take leave to do these things. One of the reasons that I freelance is because I want to be able to deal with the demands of parenting and life without having to ask someone else’s permission or feel the pressure of always not being where I am supposed to with a scary boss breathing down my neck back at the office (Except for you, ex-boss, you were great. Hi.)

I would hate to be responsible for making someone else feel that way. And so, in our home, because we have a combination of three people with more-or-less flexible schedules who can look after our children, it usually works out.

The hoops she has to jump through

This is the point I want to make. When Bianca needs to access a healthcare service, when she needs to jump through some bureaucratic hoop, when she needs to apply for funds that she desperately needs so that she can try to help financial ends to meet, each of these things takes her a day at a time.

The queues are endless, the efficiency is non-existent, and the demands on poor people who need to access these services are outrageous. Bianca works for people who have the flexibility to be decent about it, but it wouldn’t be so easy to give her a day off if my husband and I both worked in full-time jobs.

We are very aware, when we bitch about a long queue after just jumping in our cars and driving to the licensing department (and to be completely honest, the queue wasn’t even that long), that there is another human being in our lives for whom these kinds of queues stand between her and getting anything done, ever.

Doing our bit and being aware

We do our best to make it easier for her. For instance, I took her to the mall on a weekday afternoon so she could visit all the banks – but she didn’t realise that they had to stamp a form she’d been given by the school and didn’t have with her. So she had to waste her Saturday morning in five different banks to meet the application deadline.

The problem with all of this for me is the amount of time she has to dedicate to it all. It takes a day to go to the clinic to get glasses for her son. It takes a day out of her life to go to the banks. It takes a day out of her life to apply for a childcare grant. Many people who desperately need the support of these government services can’t afford to take those days off or have to use much-needed leave time to access them.

I don’t think our government is going to magically become more efficient or compassionate towards poor people (the job is too big, the resources too small) so we do our best to help her out. And we are constantly aware, as we gripe about the bureaucracy that inconveniences us, how much more it inconveniences people like Bianca.

It’s just another way of checking our privilege and remembering, when there is rage and anger, where it comes from.  

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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