There is no greater leveller than being in a queue for a few hours.
On Thursday Dave and I went to the SASSA (South Africa Social Security Agency) offices to register for our pensions. My heart sank and we nearly turned back when we saw this huge queue snaking for what seemed like kilometres made up of predominantly young Moms and their little ones and elderly women.
Dave is battling with back problems and struggles to walk more than a few metres. Fortunately being recognised as seniors we were allowed into the building ahead of the queue. Our government departments have clearly been schooled in respecting seniors as I had the same treatment at Home Affairs a couple of days earlier.
First stop is enquiries. After about 30 minutes, even having jumped the queue, we are told to go to Counter 4 around the corner.
Around the corner is a huge room divided into 2 sections - one with about 200 chairs and the smaller queue which we joined with 40 chairs. Counters 3, 4 and 5 were "serving" our queue. The other queue is for those who are doing card swaps (apparently this office alone is doing 500 card swops per day!). At most there was one clerk serving our queue and perhaps 3 serving the other group.
The room was amazingly quiet considering how many toddlers were there sitting quietly on Mom's lap or playing at her feet. No tantrums and no whining.
The building is clean and bright and the public toilets are well maintained. I understand the "no eating" signs but it must be so hard for these Moms with their little ones sitting hour after hour with no food or drink.
Previously I would have ranted and and thown my toys about the lack of staff in attendance but I have mellowed and sat quietly and chatted to those alongside me.
A young woman and her spunky 4 year old daughter, Zoe, sat beside me and we chatted about relationships and children and education as Moms do. Zoe decided to sit on my lap and for the next couple of hours she and I became oblivious to the rest of the world as we sang nursery rhymes, counted and played silly games. She was fascinated by my blonde hair which is soft and fine compared with her own short and curly dark hair. Her Mom whipped out photos of Zoe at the age of 3 with a gorgeous mop of long hair with bows everywhere, that sadly had to be cut for some reason.
Just as we got to the end of the 2nd row we were informed that the system had gone offline and they had no idea when it would be back. Some of these women had been coming day after day to renew their cards. No new card, no benefits. Yet still they must find transport money and food for their families. And, as usual it is the women and children who suffer most. There were very few men around.
In silence most of the women gathered up their children and left the building. Too tired to fight.
I didn't even rant when a supervisor explained to Dave and I that even though we had been sent to Counter 4 we would not be able to register. The company that used to do the biometrics (finger prints) used to be paid for doing them. They no longer have the contract. The SASSA staff are striking and refusing to do this part of the job because they have not been trained and will not be paid extra. They have no idea when it will be resolved.
The last time I had to queue for this length of time was when we had our first democratic elections in 1994. Our previous government had looted the country and we had such high hopes for a better future. Such euphoria, such hope. Such a different queuing experience.
I am angry that this government is no different. I am even more angry when we have women members of Parliament who have participated in the looting and have no conscience about the millions of women and children who looked up to them to build a better future.