South Africa has gained a reputation for sloppy service and disinterested officials, and once again this past weekend, this was reinforced with a group of tourists travelling through the region.
What is it that seems to give civil servants the impression that they are doing the public a favour by simply doing their jobs with a smile and positive attitude? Our group traveled into eSwatini for a weekend break, travelling through what used to be called Swaziland and experiencing nothing but pleasantness and smiles. Then, on leaving the country at the Lavumisa border crossing near Pongola, the ugly head of disinterest and arrogance reared itself again.
Crossing at the Swazi side was a joy. The emigration point is housed in an impressive building complete with air-conditioning and highly efficient staff. There were three officials at the windows, and when the queue grew, others joined from the opposite side of the desks. It was a pleasure to move through this point with the least of delays, and to waved-on through to the South African side. Here we entered a stuffy and grubby facility without cooling, and a queue that snaked around the limited space available. With only one official at the window, processing our entry back 'home' was painful. Eventually, he was joined by what appeared to be a supervisor or manager as the grumbling became louder, but the actual interface between official and visitor was curse and unsmiling!
Tourism is our country's single biggest hope to create jobs and generate much-needed foreign exchange, yet our entry points are manned by sluggish, arrogant and inefficient puppets. I suppose it stems from the Minister himself who spends more time swaggering around in his tight, bright suits than encouraging a corporate image of care and friendliness. Rather than making pompous and meaningless pronouncements from on-high, perhaps he needs to visit each border facility to see for himself how his department is damaging the international reputation of South Africa. Better still, fire the man and replace him with someone that understands the important PR and strategic role of immigration and customs. After all, there must be someone out there that knows how to smile and be polite and efficient to visitors. Someone who can train and encourage excellence rather than condone and accept mediocrity. Someone that actually gives a damn.
Perhaps if officials in the department understood that they are an integral part of tourism and hospitality, they may start taking a little more pride in their service levels. Well, I suppose we can dream......