By Heather Dugmore

Three weeks ago I tried to order brake pads from a dealer in Port Elizabeth – that Eastern Cape port city widely renowned as a vehicle mecca.

My need was simple – order the brake pads and have them couriered to the town closest to our farm, which is Middelburg.

Middelburg, as the name suggests, is in the middle of South Africa, and very much on the main route for couriers. The only snag, or so I thought, is that they sometimes get Middelburg Eastern Cape and Middelburg Mpumalanga mixed up, if you don’t etch the province on the parcel.

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“No problem with the order,” the dealer assured. “We don’t have in stock but we’ll order the brake pads from our dealer in Gauteng, they’ll courier them to us and we’ll courier them to you. Should take a day, three at the outset. It’s good that you’re ordering them now because you don’t want your disks scuffing.”

I hadn’t contemplated this until the brake pads failed to materialise after two weeks and I started experiencing scuffed disk anxiety attacks. I phoned the dealer to ask what was happening.

“You’ll never believe it but the courier broke down,” he said.

Customer service hits new lows during the Silly Season. Why we tolerate it is beyond me. Heather obviously feels the same. – Alec Hogg,

“For two weeks?”

“Well, it is the silly season.”

“What now, and why can’t they courier them directly to Middelburg?” I asked.

“They can’t,” he said, “but don’t worry, they’ll be here tomorrow.”

The next day I phoned to make sure everything was on track

“There’s a little problem,” the dealer replied. “They sent the wrong brake pads, but no problem the correct ones are on their way and you’ll have them in a jiffy.”

With my irritation rising I could not withhold from telling him that a small business transaction was turning into something that it should not.

“Like I said, it’s the silly season,” he repeated.

The next day I phoned him again. He had assured me he would phone me when the brake pads arrived, but of course he hadn’t.

“Good news, the brake pads have arrived,” he said. Not even bothering to discuss the lack of phone call, I said: “That is good news, so I presume they’ll be couriered today?”

“I’ll do my best but I’m helluva busy,” he said.

“Telling me that you’ll do your best is not what I want to hear. I want to know that those brake pads will definitely be couriered to me today!” I said, feeling myself rapidly ascending an anger peak from which it was going to take a while to abseil down.

“Look, I’m doing you a favour. I have to drive across town to drop them off at the courier,” he said.

I won’t even share the dressing down he got about who was doing whom favours. Needless to say, he promised that he would deliver the brake pads to the courier and that I would receive them the next day.

The next day when I could not raise the dealer at all, I phoned the courier and asked if there was a parcel for me on its way. No such parcel, they said.

When I finally got hold of the dealer, his first words were: “I have fired my mechanic.”

I asked him what this had to do with my brake pads. “Everything,” he replied. “I asked my mechanic to deliver your them to the courier and instead he went to the bar and got drunk.”

I went silent. My rage was gone; everything was gone. No wonder Chinese stores run by Chinese people who cannot speak a word of English are putting South Africa out of business. I’m sure if I’d gone to the Chinese shop in Middelburg, they would have produced the brake pads from under the counter, next the Savanna cigarettes.

You want to know the outcome of this story?

It isn’t over. When I asked the dealer whether he promised to personally deliver the brakes to the courier, he said:

“I can’t promise. After I fired the mechanic he drove off with your brake pads in his vehicle. But when I have a moment I am going to try and find him.”

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