So far, my experiences with South African bureaucracy haven’t been
too bad as bad as I was led to believe they might be. There’s been long queues and waiting around for things to get done, but my biggest issues have been with the UK company that’s handling our household goods. And the banks – but they deserve a post all of their own.
The only real problem with government bureaucracy is the amount of paperwork that needs to be countersigned by notaries just to do the silliest of things, which involves finding a photocopier, driving to a police station, queueing – and all for a document that could be easily forged and no-one’s going to check anyway. So long as you have the right paperwork, processes are fairly smooth it seems.
A month ago, I applied for my invisible visa. The one that lets me live in the country as the spouse of a South African citizen and also lets me work. It’s called a Temporary Residence: Spousal Visa (section 11.6) It doesn’t really seem exist in law, can’t be applied for outside of the country and yet everyone at the Department of Home Affairs knows what it is and how to apply for one.
The process is tedious, but fairly straightforward. I takes 30 days, according to the rules, and mine was supposed to be ready yesterday.
Before you collect a permit, the DHA usually SMS you to say it’s ready. Since I hadn’t received the SMS yesterday morning, I thought I’d call ahead rather than brave the traffic of downtown Joburg and the inevitable two hour queue at their quite spectacularly grimy offices.
The lady I spoke to took my number and said she’d call back within 24 hours. Today’s phone call went something like this:
“Hi, I called yesterday to see if my visa was ready, and someone said they’d call me back within 24 hours. I thought I’d call since that was yesterday morning, and you might have my number wrong.”
“Ah sir, can I have your passport number and application reference please.”
“I see sir. It says here that you called yesterday and the lady you spoke to said she’d call you back in 24 hours.”
“That’s right. That was yesterday at 8am, so I was just a bit concerned…”
“Sir, you do realise that 24 hours can be two days don’t you.”
I laugh, thinking this is an ironic remark about ‘Africa time’ or something.
“Yes, quite. Ha, ha. I should probably get my clocks fixed then.”
(Deadpan) “So my colleague will call you back before tomorrow morning sir.”
“24 hours can be two days you see.”
“…um…OK…I’ll speak to her tomorrow then.”
“Thank you sir. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”
“Do you mean yesterday, or tomorrow? I’m very confused.”
In other news, the communist party of South Africa – a key parliamentary partner of the ruling ANC – today called for a law to be introduced which would outlaw defamatory remarks about the president. To protect “the dignity of office”, satire must be punishable by law. I’m not sure whether this is scary totalitarianism on a par with what’s going in Greece or just some idiots who still think Stalin got it right.
I’m going to laugh at them, just to be on the safe side. Although in a country where the government is busy bulldozing the homes of people who’ve managed to pull themselves out of the slums*, anything is possible.
*Obviously they aren’t bulldozing the hotels and rich people’s houses on the other side of the road.
An interesting morning today at the Eco Technology Show and Smart Business Conference, which are taking place at Falmer Stadium in Brighton this weekend. The highlight was a debate between MPs Caroline Lucas (leader of the Green Party), Greg Barker (Minister for Climate Change, Con) and Norman Baker (Undersecretary of State for Transport, Lib) titled ” The conundrum of economic growth in a resource constrained world”.
A heated debate, to be sure (sample early quote “This government is not about an austerity agenda,” which set the general tone), but one in which no-one mentioned the fact that ‘sustainable growth’ has come to mean so many different things it’s meaningless. When the new planning laws went through, a key criticism is that by defining sustainable growth as continually growing in financial terms – with no environmental considerations at all – you could get around most of the core provisions with a few clever semantics.
More critical to this particular discussion, however, was the issue of the Green Deal – details of which were released earlier this week. Barker put forward the idea (that he’s made elsewhere) that it’s one of the most significant investments in infrastructure since the war. Lucas shot back with criticism that it’s likely to benefit big businesses rather than the environment or small, local firms.
These two arguments are well enough documented elsewhere on the web, but on the show floor it was the latter one that I heard repeated most often. Several firms told me that they’d given up trying to get Green Deal Certified – which entitles them to certain subsidies and preferential loan rates, as well as work through energy suppliers – because they felt the terms were simply skewed against them.
Depressing, yes. But it shouldn’t detract from the cool stuff on the show floor. Notably cheap EV mopeds, which look a bit like Lambrettas, that cost less than £2000. I would absolutely buy one if it wasn’t for the fact my commute to work is only 200 yards. Also, it was the first time I’ve seen lithium batteries for storing energy from domestic solar arrays which are almost – but not entirely – reasonably priced (around £3000 on top of the cost of the solar array).
Oh yeah – one final thing. Birmingham is doing some really interesting stuff when it comes to smart city technology. It’s spent a fortune on working out how it can save money in the long run using something like the Rio de Janerio model – and at this stage it looks very promising.
I meant to write a long blog about what I got up to on Jubilee weekend (my views are staunchly republican) but ended up taking a bit of time off instead. Which was long overdue and, I hope, deserved. Here’s an interesting thing that few have pointed out, though. The official Republic protest by the Thames was pretty well disrupted by being split in two. Anyone arriving after around 12 o’clock couldn’t get into the protest site, underneath City Hall. Not even press were allowed in unless they’d registered beforehand.
A lot of people blamed the police who managed to extinguish the protest so successfully – but as far as I could tell it was nothing to do with the Met. Rather it was these guys, More London, who own the development near Tower Bridge. Republic liaised with them before the event, but weren’t warned of the restrictions on numbers until the gates were closed on the day. It might seem like a dirty tactic to break one modestly sized demo into two tiny and ignorable ones, but the thing is, everyone was banned from the area. There were thousands of people out to support the Queen looking for a way down to the waterfront, walking up and Tooley Street and far more annoyed than the protesters.
So rather than being a shadowy conspiracy to neuter a democratic protest, it looks more like it was a horrible and indiscriminate example of the evils inherent in corporate ownership of public space. Nice.
Very happy to see a picture of mine has been chosen by the Guardian for International Women’s Day. I’ve written about Sonia many times in the past – she’s one of the most inspirational people I know. Bright, intelligent and with enough family problems that she could and probably should be doing anything she wanted in one of Zambia’s major cities. Instead she chooses to stay in a poor, remote school and walk 14km a day to try and make the world a slightly better place.
Sonia’s story – as it was two years’ ago – is over here. I cry every time I read it back. No matter how little she has or earns, she always puts other people first. And her partner, who scrimped and saved to help her go to college, is the same.
And there’s no reward for what she does. No karmic payback. Last year, she lost her third child – a baby, under a year old – to measles. A stupid, treatable, eradicable disease that picks on the best and the worst of us indiscriminately.
Last time I spoke to Sonia, she was praying for the chance to go back to college to get the next level of teaching qualifications she needs to continue improving her own career and maybe, one day, start her own school. I can only wish her the best of luck.
It’s been a long day at City Camp Brighton, and I was late (as ever) for the start. But also enormously productive and interesting. I’ve sat in on discussions about everything from digital inclusion and how to help people facing benefit cuts to save money, to a fascinating idea about using QR codes to make the history of places in the city discoverable to anyone with a smart phone. My favourite pitch so far involves journalism – natch – and creating temporary workspaces for kids to tell their stories and raise their own issues in a magazine-style web TV channel.
Too tired to write it all up right now, and there were some 40-50 ideas discussed over the course of the day which I need to ingest. Suffice to say I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s big pitch day, where there’s real money on the table to try and find answers to some of Brighton’s problems.
Also, if tomorrow goes according to plan, I’ll have a notebook to liveblog from that’s actually charged. Hurrah.
Also can’t tell: arse from elbows, news from garbage and – funnily enough – real world from fantasy.
I suspect – given that the sample size quoted is a Douglas Adams-ey 42 people – that the Metro has just fallen victim to one of those hoax press release spoofers.
Strange how little coverage this story got this week: Renault is planning on putting solar panels on the roof of its French factories and distribution centres that are capable of producing 60MW of electricity a year. I’ve no idea how that compares to the company’s total power requirements (their stated aim is 20% CO2 reductions by 2016, for which this is one contribution) but will try and find out more this week.
(Via Renewable Energy News)
I get sent a lot of press releases in the course of a working day. Sometimes it can literally be hundreds. It’s my fault for not hunkering down and sticking to one subject matter to write about. I get everything from update reports on hospitals in Libya to… well… this.
It’s… one of the few things to have actually made me stop during a busy day and pay more than a cursory bit of attention to an email that should have been filtered through to my PR bin (for searching through at a later date if I’m really, really short of a story). Apparently, it’s a cover for an Xbox 360 that “is a brand built from the ground up to provide everything the avid gamer needs to get the most out of their console”.
Look, it’s colourful and it’s got hooks you can hang gamepads on. It’s what every living room needs, right?
It’s almost the perfect press release: Pointless product, eye stopping picture, no direct link for more information, sent to a list bought in from somewhere else without actually bothering to check and see if I write about Xboxes. Which, apart from in very specific circumstances, I don’t. The reply-to address is simply ‘PR’ too, so I have no idea who it’s from.
I want one.
But nothing else. I’ve tried really hard to like the periodicals download, really I have. I’ve paid for the Independent, the Financial Times and the New Statesman, mainly because I’ve felt so guilty reading all their content online for free for so long. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on my reading magazine articles on a Kindle was so unsatisfying, especially when I absolutely devour books on the thing and by many more of them since I got a the device.
Now I realise what it is. Half of the joy of a magazine is browsing, in the same way that websites are more engrossing when their full of informative links. I’ve had the latest copy of the Staggers on my Kindle for over a week now, but if it hadn’t been for someone linking to this amazing story by Hugh Grant (of all people) via Facebook, I’d have missed it. The Kindle actively pushes you away from index pages and article links and almost forces you to read in a linear fashion. Which is perfect for books, of course, but terrible for news articles.
Anyway – enough wibbling about the Kindle. Go read Hugh Grant’s bugging the buggers piece for a quite incredible piece of journalism and possibly the first honest thing that’s been written about phone hacking so far.
Several features which I’m really enjoying. Unusually so. Also, all at nicely oblique angles to the day-to-day stuff which keeps me in toast and butter. Will link to them in due course.
They aren’t completely random. I took Tabby to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Arundel at the weekend. She loved it.