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Paper Racism

11 March 2014, 07:13

Recently a family’s water was cut off, the reason shoved into their gate that of an unusually high outstanding balance on their water account.

Now as this bewildered family expresses their anger and feelings of injustice at receiving this account, you’re probably thinking that here is another family just trying to ride the coattails of the government without any repercussions, after all, with an outstanding balance of over a hundred thousand rand, what is a few extra thousand at this point, right?

 It can be seen as the perfect example of how this government overlooks certain debts until someone else comes sniffing about and says enough is enough.

I mean, how dare these Tshabalala’s think that they are above everyone else and be surprised [let alone angered] that the municipality finally came and decided to end their ‘free ride’ after all this time! The nerve…

Except for one thing, the family receiving the account of over a hundred thousand rand outstanding debt and having their water immediately cut off is not the Tshabalala’s. 

Instead, it would seem that the family with a distinctively Dutch surname is receiving this account and associated water discontinuation.

But mistakes happen all the time, right? So the unfortunate incident, though easily misunderstood, has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the family with the very Afrikaans-sounding surname is being randomly discriminated against.

….or is it?

See the problem comes afterwards, where a mistake that could have been handled without unnecessary difficulty becomes a mountain task riddled with faulty administration, miscommunication, the inevitable pushing of blame onto others and blatant paper racism.

What is paper racism?

Everybody’s seen or heard of it and most people are guilty of subconsciously practicing it. Every company is victim of it and simply because they need to have the status quo up to standard to avoid any unwanted issues that could mess with their business activity.

It’s the reason one candidate will get a call back over another, simply because their name reveals them to be someone worthy of benefiting from all that ‘Equal Equity’. 

Of course this does not mean the person chosen lacks in the skills, experience or qualifications required in doing the job. It simply means they have that ‘little something extra’ companies aren't allowed to blatantly say in the job description without being at risk for a lawsuit or damaging their image.

It’s the equivalent of judging a book by its cover and there is no one who can honestly say they haven’t done it. In a country that seems fixated with image over inner truth it is especially hard to deny that everybody is judged on the blanket image of their associated race.

But where does it end?

Obviously not in the workforce as one family has discovered in their experience with the Tshabalala’s.

As the family tried to rectify the misunderstanding with the municipality on the erroneous water disconnection, they were greeted with disregard and even counter accusation as others tried to shift the issue off from their tables.

From one employee denying there was a problem only to begin blaming the maintenance man who did the actual call-out to the residence, to another employee that straight up dropped the phone call from the family after barely listening to two minutes of the query.

From one employee stating that all records showed that the account had been sent to the correct address, to another admitting the account under the family’s [not the Tshabalala’s] surname was clear of any indication of a disconnection notice and thus a mistake had to have been made.

From one employee arguing that nothing could be done BECAUSE there was no disconnection notice and thus no authorization could be given for a re-connection, to another employee who promised a re-connection only to never be heard from again.

From all that, it is easy to see that no one is willing to step up and fix a problem they assumed to have no part in, even when the entity that employed them held monopoly over the service and became the ones responsible for any and all queries directed to them. It creates a great deal of concern to see a service run by such evasive workers and makes it pretty clear why service delivery in this country is the way it is.

One must wonder whether or not these individuals were another result of paper racism, receiving their positions solely based on how their surname looked on paper.

The family, who by then had spent over a week without water, had tried all resources to find someone who would listen to their query and actually do something and finally they turned to the local political party to deal with the problem, but it would turn out that even those that advocate that they are fighting for all our rights are not free from paper racism and the DA representative contacted fizzled into the pile of useless attempts by the family who were now losing their patience with all the disregard directed towards them.

It was then, when the family moved to their final stand as they became desperate and contacted the call center one last time in hopes for someone competent to either explain or direct them to another to help them, that they finally found someone that would do something aside from shift the blame.

The employee who answered ventured to try something that shouldn't have worked, issuing a re-connection for the Tshabalala’s water. Of course this was an odd suggestion to the family as one of the previous employees had revealed that the Tshabalala’s had never had their water disconnected in the first place as they insisted the suffering family’s residence was the correct one.

But the family was at an end for any other options and the employee went through with the request and authorization. Four hours later, that same day, the call-out was completed and water was set flowing after nearly two weeks of trying to fix the problem.

After previous queries had only gained a response two days later and not even with a call-out but instead a phone call of no problem being found, the issue was dealt with in four hours of the last employees trick – no phone call, just action.

But what puts the cherry on the cake I think, is that when the call-out was made, the poor maintenance man probably didn't expect to find a non-white person standing at the gate to the residence to give them a piece of their mind as they worked.

It can be assumed that at this moment the Tshabalala’s live on happily with flowing water, that their account balance proves they have no intention of paying while the family, who have the apparent misfortune of being descendants from a mixed lineage, have to now live wondering when the same mistake will be made again.

It seems a gross injustice that while others go out of their way to pay for the services that are barely available to them are treated so negligently as opposed to those who don’t even appreciate that they have access to the service offered so conveniently to them. 

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