A recent call to the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism left me with a look on my face which I doubt my colleagues will ever forget. I was simply looking for someone to assist me with a media query, and assumed the person to speak to would be the department’s spokesperson.
I must mention, though, that I had first tried to find this person on the departmental website, but it didn’t take me long to see that my search was going nowhere. The last time they had updated the MEC’s speeches was in 2010. This tells me either that the MEC doesn’t make speeches or the department feels it has nothing to communicate. Anyway, back to my call. The phone was answered by a man who merely said: “Hello”. I asked him if I could speak to the spokesperson.
He told me to call back after 2pm. I replied that this wasn’t convenient, and asked him for the spokesperson’s telephone number. He then said that he wasn’t even sure who the spokesperson was! I’m not kidding. I asked him if they even had a spokesperson, and he said: “No.” I didn’t believe this and began phoning other sections in the department to track down the spokesperson, and finally found him: a Mr Shilenge. Well, as you might have guessed, it didn’t help me. I sent him an email, and, four days later, I’m still waiting for his reply.
A lack of skills
This incident reminds me of two things: Auditor-General Terrence Nombembe’s comments after this past year’s dismal municipal audits and a conversation I had recently with the minister of agriculture, Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Nombembe stated in his report that 70% of municipal workers lacked skills, which jeopardised service delivery, something that labour unions rightfully blame on cadre deployment.
And Minister Joemat-Pettersson told me she suffers from this problem in her department as well. In fact, she encounters not only a lack of skills, but sheer laziness. She gave an example of how a simple instruction is forwarded from one office to another and purposely ignored – when someone could stroll to a colleague’s office and make sure the instruction is carried out.
South African theologian and academic the Reverend Professor Peter Storey, once said: “Vocation doesn’t happen because we’re better paid, or better educated, or given more power. However important these things are, they don’t make a called person. Duty, honour, responsibility, a sense of stewardship and accountability, are virtues, and virtues come from within.”
If only we could see some of these virtues in our public servants! If only these people could appreciate that their work plays a vital role in ordinary people’s lives. The documents they mislay and the emails they ignore could change the lives of farmers and their families – helping to provide financial security in some cases, and perhaps even preventing financial disaster in others. The irony is that these public servants enjoy secure jobs themselves, paid for by taxes from the very people they are neglecting! When will they learn to live up to their name – and serve the public?