Ten weeks to get a phone line – I kid you not

It happened but I wasn’t sure it ever would.   It was 10 weeks from request to dial tone – that’s a pretty long time when you are living in a new country and mobile service in your house is quite patchy.

When I arrived in South Africa one of the many pieces of advice I received was – not everything is easy here – even basic things are sometimes difficult to arrange, sometimes we look like a first world country but we’re not really.

So when I trundled into Telkom to ask for a phone connection I didn’t have super high expectations – maybe just medium ones.  Sure, I thought, maybe not same day service – but I was absolutely not prepared for – no phone lines at all I’m afraid madam.  I had to ask again to check that was what was actually said and if that meant what I thought it did – yes, yes and yes.

The guy in the shop asked me – do your neighbours have phones? 

Not sure, haven’t met them yet  – however happy to door knock them and ask crazy questions if it will help me get a phone line at any stage like ever.  

Well, it usually takes 3-6 weeks for a new number to be created at the exchange and we are all on strike from tomorrow (no – we don’t know until when) but you never know your luck lady.  

OK – can I get the order in for the phone line and the broadband then? 

Actually no – well you can but it will cost you 500 Rand extra.  If you get the phone line first and then apply for broadband after its installed that change is free.

OK – how long will that take ?

No time at all – about 3 days after your phone line is in

Why there weren’t alarm bells ringing all over my head at that stage I am not really sure – but I was new and trusting and not yet using TIA (This is Africa) and AWA (Africa wins Again) on a daily basis.  So I dutifully put in the economically prudent request for phone line only – thinking I could brag to my husband of the 500 rand (approx AUD $100 or HKD $500) I had saved our single income family. 

In the beginning I remained relatively optimistic – a mere two weeks after my visit to the Telkom office I had a phone call –

Caller – Hi – can I ask if I am speaking to Mrs M the same person that went into the Umhlanga Rocks Telkom office last week to apply for a phone line?

Me (in anticipation and excitement) – Yes, that’s me.

Caller – We are doing a customer service survey for the Umhlanga rocks office and wanted to know if you could give us 5-6 minutes of your time ?

Me (very deflated) – Actually yes – I would be happy to tell you what I think of the service I received, although I was hoping you were calling to tell me a new phone line had been created at the exchange and I was about to get a home phone. 

Caller (now wary) – OK then on a scale of 0 – 5 where 0 is the worst and 5 is the best tell me about x,y,z

It may have been the day but I just wasn’t ready to give anyone who had yet given me any kind of service except what I now thought was false hope and expectations (perhaps a little unfairly they did after all say 3-6 weeks) anything higher than a 2 no matter what the category.  I may have bought their average down – but I don’t think so after conducting my own unofficial survey of other Telkom customers I have met, and really they should sort out their customer service surveying – how about hand over the files for calling after they have provided promised services?  That store manager doesn’t know what he is doing!

Since then have met other newcomers to the estate through my newly found interest in golf – just in it to make some friends and fill up some time on Wednesday mornings – but who knows I could become addicted. I have also discovered that golf seems to be a social skill should you live on a golf estate as we do. Anyway I discovered some people who arrived after us that had a phone line before we even had a number allocated.  I was of course very interested in their strategy – what did you do? 

Oh – we went in and threatened to take back our 700 Rand ‘foreigner deposit’ and complained and asked to speak to the manager.  OK – I can do that – after all what did six years in HKG teach me if not to be a demanding expat wife?

Telkom office – next day – I would like to check on my phone line please?  Sure let me have a look – hmm note here from last week saying that no lines.  I would say it would be another 4-6 weeks. 

But it has already been four weeks.

Possibly but that particular community where you live is a nightmare – not sure what’s going on but there is never enough phone lines. 

Thanks – however I would like to know why people who live in the same estate as I and applied for a phone line after me since have one.

That’s impossible – what is their phone number?

As luck would have it I didn’t have the said phone number at hand so was slightly wrong footed and they were able to tell me that it was absolutely impossible that someone who had requested a number after I had could have had one allocated before me.  These are the same people that didn’t know if other people in my street had phones….how could they possibly have the comparative information about when my neighbours and I had applied for our telephone lines?

Fine then (my husband knows to always look for trouble when I start using the word fine – these people seemed oblivious). Can I have my money back?

Of course you can – will that be cash or cheque? (Again – not the response I was looking for)

What I really want is a phone line and would love it if you could just arrange one for me

Have you tried Neotel?

(side note for non SA residents – Neotel is the first ever competitor to Telkom across their product base, these guys are telling me to go and speak to them – sadly I already had and they couldn’t help me – Not rolled out in your area yet madam)

Yes I have – they can’t help. I would like to wait then please.

Roll forward several weeks

Random man turns up at my front door

Hi there – we are here to connect a phone line

(YAYAYAYYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAY) Of course – come on in.

Can you tell me where it is?

Sure – well there are all these connection boxes on the walls – 2 in this room, 2 in this room, 2 in this room – take your pick

(Telkom men – note there are 3 start wandering around the house – once they have checked out all my things and looked at a couple of walls)

Umm – there’s going to be a problem.  It doesn’t seem that there has ever been a  phone line in this house before?

Well there were previous tenants – there must have been.

No – we just ran a check and there was no previous line.

I am wondering if this check had been run say 8 weeks ago when I applied for a phone whether that would have been helpful?

Yes – it might have.  I tell you what – I am just going to call it in, they will be here in a few days to run a line into the house from the street.

Sure sure sure

Two weeks later there is a flurry of activity with three visits from ‘contractors’ in a week. They of course can’t tell me what is happening, as they are contractors, I will need to call Telkom to actually find out if we are ever going to get a phone line.

I was never given any notice of these appointment times and invariably would have to race back from whatever morning activity I was attending to speak to them and show them where eventually I hoped the phone line would be connected to the house.

On one occasion I had to call the landlord while they were there to find out where the lines were meant to come into the house and had to cop an earful from him on how terrible Telkom were – he didn’t need to tell me – I already knew.

Finally after 10 weeks I get a call one Friday afternoon – hi this is xxx from Telkom, your phone line will be installed on Monday.

OK – I’ll believe that when I see it – I know its not your fault but I haven’t come to have high expectations of the process so far.

The lady calling was obviously used to such discussions as she laughed as it was water off a duck’s back.

Can you tell me what time I might expect them?

No – we can’t give you any time

Well please note I won’t be home in the morning

Yes we will do that

8.30am Monday morning – guess who knocks at the door?

I have to say now they were actually down to it – umpteen visits and phone calls later it only took about 15 minutes and it was in.  We tested the phone and received a dial tone – made a call to get the phone number and then the technician told me – you won’t be able to make calls for about an hour – however you will be able to receive calls straight away and then he left.

Five minutes later the phone rang – Hello – is that the (community that I live in) Shop?

Ah no – not so much

OK thanks

Two further minutes pass – two more phone calls for same shop.

Hmm – might be time to change my number………………….

Not one hour not one day but three days later is when we could eventually dial out.  I think we have made about three calls and received several more for the local shop – but I’m somehow old fashioned and sleep better at night knowing we have our very own phone line.

Broadband to follow – ETA at this stage unknown.


One response to “Ten weeks to get a phone line – I kid you not

  1. I do recall a certain relatively monstrous telco in Oz that’s known for having an extremely large and well compensated legal team, and also for eating puppies when it thinks no-one’s looking. Congratulations – you’ve managed to time travel to the early eighties and lived to tell the tale…

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