Oil of delay

September 30, 2015 § 6 Comments

I’m a low-maintenance kind of girl. I’m not big on brand names or bling, I wash my face with soap and water, and I’ve never had a manicure. And when I need moisturiser, I generally find something middle-of-the-price range on the supermarket shelves and use that.

But this weekend, for some reason I picked up a bottle of that beauty stalwart, Olay beauty fluid, formerly known as Oil of Olay. At home I unscrewed the lid and smoothed the pale pink fluid over my cheeks and at once I smelt my mother and my grandmother, and I smiled. I remembered that they were both strong, capable women of grit, and yet both had the softest cheeks when you snuggled in for a hug.

My grandmother remains one of my personal heroines. She was tiny, and feisty, and she took a fairly difficult life in her stride and handled it with grace and style. My mother, I think, was a feminist (possibly not officially so) as evidenced in the way she raised us. Two girls and a boy and she treated us all the same – my sister and I helped my dad as much with woodwork and fixing cars as much as my brother was required to help with dishes and housework, as a tiny illustration. (It is a little known fact that I have good practical experience of throwing concrete slabs.)

Today marks 30 years since she died, but I remember clearly that my mom only had one real expectation from us – that we did our best. That applied to school work, extra-murals, or hanging out the washing. You were required to do your best. The effort, the work ethic, was the thing, not the outcome. And I certainly never felt that any of my future options were limited because I was a girl. Whatever I wanted to do, she supported, as long as I put my back into it and did things properly.

But since I opened that bottle of Olay, I’ve been thinking about the kind of woman I am; about what my mother and grandmother would think of my choices. I think they’d probably understand, and even if they disagreed, they’d love me anyway. But I think they’d be quite disappointed with the way the world has turned out for women. Because for all the advances in gender equity – the laws, the opportunities, the lip service – things are still not as they should be. I have two daughters of my own now, so these things trouble me.

For example:

  1. It is still safer for a boy or man to walk alone on the streets than it is for a girl or woman to do so. It doesn’t matter if she’s taller, or stronger, or a better fighter than her male counterpart – she’s still perceived to be more of a target.
  2. There’s still a pay gap between men and women in many companies – same job, same qualifications, same experience, but women will earn a lesser salary.
  3. If women choose not to have children, they are criticised for their choice.
  4. If women choose to have children and continue working outside of the home, they are criticised for their choice.
  5. If women choose to have children and work part-time or work from home, or be a stay-at-home mom (I despise the term, but have no better one) they are criticised for their choice.
  6. Women are still asked (by the media, all the time) how they manage to balance their work and home life – men are not asked this.
  7. Women are punished for having a womb. Someone has to bear the children, people: it’s simple biology. Yet women of child-bearing age are often passed up for positions because they ‘might fall pregnant’. I know of women who’ve been retrenched while on maternity leave. I’ve even heard people say it’s a waste for women to qualify as doctors, for example, because they will stop practising as soon as they have children, and all the money spent educating them will be wasted.
  8. Women are made to feel guilty for leaving work early to attend to a child’s school function, while men who do the same thing are applauded for being ‘hands-on’ fathers.
  9. When women look after their children on the weekends they are parenting. When men look after their children on the weekends, they are babysitting.
  10. Men are applauded for ‘helping with the children’. Because it’s women’s work, right?

(And apologies to my gay friends. I am aware that these distinctions are largely heterosexual in nature.)

Do I need to go on? There are so many examples of gender disparity it exhausts me sometimes. And I know there are couples where these roles are not the norm. I know the ‘not all men’ and brigade will be up in arms, but I think they are a small minority. I think we still have a long way to go.

And many of these issues are hard enough for women who have had opportunities like a good education. Imagine how much harder it is for those who haven’t.

So I look at my strong, intelligent, capable, daughters, and I think about the women in my family who have inspired me, and I realise that I’m probably raising women that the world isn’t ready for. These young women – despite all the strides feminists have made – are still going to have to fight to be recognised as equal human beings in what is still very much a man’s world. And that makes me sad.

We have to do better.



September 16, 2015 § 6 Comments

We need to talk about packaging, honestly. It’s beyond a joke. I feel like too much of my day is spent wrestling with, or being challenged by packaging in some way.

Consider the halcyon days of our youth, when the butcher wrapped your meat in some brown paper, or you bought a bottle of lotion straight off the shelf. It was pretty straightforward: liquid things came in bottles with a lid that screwed off, and everything else was in brown paper. It was all so beautiful and simple.

And then, one day, retailers discovered polystyrene and plastic, and the packaging world went mad.

Opening a new squeezy bottle of honey this morning took a sharp knife and a pair of pliers. I’m not even joking. Firstly, why do we even need a squeezy bottle? What’s wrong with a (100% recyclable) glass jar and a lid that screws off? I hate that bloody flip-up lid with its stingy hole and constricted access to the bottle’s contents.

And you can’t just take a new bottle of honey and flip up the lid – you have to first get rid of the tiny plastic doofadang that has to be peeled off. Except no-one in the world has the kind of fingernails that fit under the doofadang. So you have to get a knife with a really sharp point and bend the corner up, then find some needle-nosed pliers to get hold of it and pull it off. I’m not even joking.

And all I wanted was some honey with my yoghurt, that’s all. Just a spoonful or two of nature’s nectar, and preferably without any drama.

Have you bought any cosmetics recently? I picked up some moisturiser the other day and it was like playing Pass the Parcel. First, a layer of cellophane. Then I opened the cardboard box it was in. Out came some inner cardboard bits and the prize was in sight. I could see the lid of the jar!

You’d think that would be it. You would be so wrong.

There was a strip of shrink-wrapping on the join between jar and lid. And then, when I finally got the lid off, there was a plastic cover to remove. I should’ve put some music on and got one of the kids to stop it periodically so I could unwrap all the layers and make it into a game.

And another thing. Why, in the name of all that is holy, are we sealing jars on the outside with those stupid shrink-wrap seals? There is a whole industry devoted to manufacturing gadgets that make jars easier to open. Women look for strong men to marry so they’ll never have to open a jar again, for crying out loud. Some days the only thing you have to feel proud about is that you managed to open the strawberry jam without any help. Jars don’t need any more help to stay closed – what is this madness?

Then there’s the magic plastic. You know, the kind that you can’t pull open with your fingers. Only scissors can penetrate its transparent tenacity. So you snip it and magically it tears in a thousand different directions and the contents spill everywhere. What evil genius came up with that?

But I think my very favourite thing when it comes to packaging is the way the pharmaceutical industry does it. Whole boxes for a single pill. Tiny pills in the middle of massive foil squares. Five pills in a box that could hold 24 fat wax crayons – the creativity and wastefulness is something to behold.

I don’t know what the answer is, but these are the things that keep me awake at night. Or they would if I had time to sleep – I’m too busy trying to break into my yoghurt.

At last, Vodacom responds

September 9, 2015 § 3 Comments

It took a great deal of badgering on social media, but I received a reply to my emailed questions from Vodacom this afternoon. As a screenshot might be hard to read, I have simply copied and pasted the email from Tshepo Ramodibe into the body of this blogpost. I have not edited or made any alterations.

Dear Mandy,

The subject depleting data has undeniably been topical and not limited to a specific service provider.

The public interest conversation and questions are welcomed.

1) What is a reasonable time for customers to expect to hear back from Vodacom when they log a query regarding their account?

Our ambition is to deal with the majority of customer queries in real time as soon as they are received. Currently we are able to solve more than 75% of all customers’ queries during the first customer contact. Some queries, like yours, are complex and need longer time to investigate.  We invest time to ensure that we are able to give thorough feedback and resolve the issue.

2) What steps are being put in place to provide a credible, reliable way to measure data usage and bill accurately?

All together our free USSD service and the My Vodacom App tools that customers can use to monitor balances and manage usage. For USSD, customers can dial *111# and follow prompts. The My Vodacom App can also be used to manage accounts on the go, as long as customers are connected to the internet.

If customers are still worried that data bundles are being used faster than expected, they should get in touch with us to investigate. On the whole, we have confidence in our billing systems and have been able to trace consumption in all instances.

3) What steps are being taken to change the way Vodacom interfaces with clients that will indicate that Vodacom takes them seriously, cares about their concerns, and values their custom?

We value and appreciate all our 32 million plus customers. Our main channel to engage with customers is through our Customer Care Department. We have more than 2000 customer care representatives across the country to deal with customer questions and queries. Moreover, we have a dedicated technical data help desk that investigates any data related queries we receive from customers.

We invite all customers to get in touch with us by dialling 111 from their cellphones or via email on customercare@vodacom.co.za  (Mon to Sun from 06:00 to 22:00). Customer care services are available 365 days a year.

4) What is the process now for all of the customers who do feel that their queries around sudden, mysterious data loss have been ignored by your customer service department? Are you setting up a specific task team to deal with this? What specific measures are you putting in place?

We have a data help desk that investigates any data related queries we receive from customers; we encourage customers to send queries to us via email on customercare@vodacom.co.za with Data enquiry in the subject line. http://help.vodacom.co.za/personal/emailus/?aq=Data%20enquiry

5) What recourse do customers have if they disagree with the explanation they get around their data use?

In all instances, we strive to resolve all received queries amicably by providing each customer with feedback on where and how data was used. This remains a standing commitment.

In the instance that customers remain dissatisfied, ICASA is the mandatory body that looks at matters of data, quality of networks and call services, among other things. This, however, should be the last resort as we remain committed closing all queries to the satisfaction of our loyal customers.

Tips to manage your data usage

  • Switch off your data connection when you’re not using it. Apps often perform functions behind the scenes that will use data without your realising it.
  • Turn off automatic updates over data connections and rather use Wi-Fi for backing up lots of files or updating your apps.
  • Check how much data individual apps are using and adjust the settings where possible to avoid using your data connection.
  • Make sure you have a quality anti-virus program on your device such as Norton or Symantec.
  • Streaming music and watching movies on your phone uses data very quickly – use with caution.
  • Make sure that you have signed up for the right amount of data for your needs to avoid running out before month end.
  • Pay attention to the Vodacom SMS notifications that let you know that your data bundle is running low or has been depleted and buy additional data bundles if needed.



I did ask for clarity on what USSD stood for (just because I’m a pedantic old hack) but more importantly, I asked what customers are to do when their SMS notification says they have one amount of data, and dialing *111# shows they have a different amount of data.

The email also fails to address those incidences where people’s devices have been switched off completely and they have still lost data.

In both cases, your recourse must be to ICASA, as far as I can see, and I am unable to help any further, as my issue was resolved, and individual people will have to plead their specific cases.

But I do urge consumers to hold their service providers accountable – on any network – and not to be browbeaten into simply giving up. Ask when you will receive feedback, and when it doesn’t arrive, follow up, and don’t give up until you get an answer that you are satisfied. It’s exhausting, but it has to be done. If enough of us demand that basic customer service levels are adhered to, eventually this will hopefully become standard practice.

After all, your call is important to them. Or so they say.

Initial feedback from Vodacom

September 2, 2015 § 5 Comments

There was a huge response to my last blog, so I feel it’s important I provide some feedback. I received a phone call from Tshepo Ramodibe, and a follow up email resolving my small issue with data, which is in the screenshot below.

Screenshot 2015-09-02 08.13.21

However, as I said to Tshepo on the phone, while I’m grateful that he has resolved my issues, it’s outrageous that I had to go to these lengths to get some basic customer service. And given that thousands of people have had much more serious data and customer service issues, we need some answers. So I sent this response to him:

Screenshot 2015-09-02 09.01.38

And now we wait to see what the response will be. Please continue to share these posts so that as many people as possible can get the feedback – the more noise we make, the harder it will be for them to ignore our displeasure.

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