Picture the scene. Yesterday I stood in one of those never-ending Government queues. At the counter sat (slouched) three of those typical Government types. This being the New(improved) South Africa, they were obviously black, party-faithful. And this is right. If you win an election, especially by the margins that the ANC did, it’s time for a change of guard, and this starts with the State Departments.
I got to the front of the queue and the “small wheel” started scrutinizing my form. Just his head, shoulders and hand were visible above the counter and he slouched so badly that when he dropped his pen on the floor (three times) he hardly had to lean down to retrieve it.
A 200kg Mamma shuffled, painfully along behind them dishing out brown manila files to the clerks, wheezing and sweating her way along this tortuous, 5m journey.
I started day-dreaming, and wondered if these “Public Servants” had any concept of their linaege. No don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t thinking about how a proud and supremely fit Xhosa warrior had morphed into this waste of oxygen picking my form apart, but how the procedures and forms in triplicate and tick boxes and endless reams of paperwork had evolved.
When the Romans colonized Britain, they brought with them laws and record-keeping and taxes. When they finally left, these structured systems and procedures remained.
The British were (and still are) sticklers for detail and the Civil Service is world-renowned for it’s nit-picking, inflexible procedures. When “Great Britain” sailed off and colonized India and most of Southern and East Africa they took with them the tools of Government. Pen, paper and carbon paper.
South Africa is a typical case in point, and from 1910 to 1948 Public Servants were typically white, UK-born, english-speaking, pen-pushing beaurocrats.
When the National Party swept to power in 1948 they immediately changed the faces, but not the procedures. These were the Government officials of my youth. Inflexible Afrikaans tannies at the front counters and safari-suited, brylcreemed hair, brown-shoes in the corridors of power at the back.
And then came 1994? Man, did this shake things up !! Out went the Afrikaans tannies (or at least to back offices where the public couldn’t see them.) and in came the new “faces of freedom” Guess what stayed the same. Yep, the procedures, the pens, the brown manila files, the carbon.
“Sir, thees form is wrong, its says tick and you have crossed eet. You weel have to do it over and then stand in thees line again. Sir, sir, are you alright?”