SARS means bird 'flu to many people, but in the People's Democratic and Progressively Foreward Republic of Sarth Effrika, it means the South African Revenue Service - or the tax man. They owe me a bunch of money. Oh, it might be chicken feed to Thabo, but it isn't to me. So they send me a cheque (to England) which never arrives. Trevor, old chap, give me my money back, please!
I call them to discuss. They are very efficient with their computerised knowledge bank that seems to know everything about me. Tell me that the cheque has not been presented, so they will cancel it, and do the electronic transfer I had requested in the first place. Sorted. Nope. One month later nothing. A few weeks more and we are actually in South Africa, and can get a live audience with Comrade SARS. They once again are very polite, seem to be very efficient with their computer that sucks in our banking details on 6 June. 3-4 days and the refund will be in my account. Nope.
Weeks go by, and I call again. The computer helps the call-centre lady (who is very polite it must be said) to tell me that when they cancel a cheque, they wait 21 days before processing a payment just in case the cheque is accidently deposited. The 21 days is 21 working days, but their computer cannot tell me a release date, so I refer to old fashioned paper-based calendar technology and work it out for them. Three days away - and presto, like magic, the SARS computer will sweep my money out of the Treasury's geat big bag of other people's money they like hanging onto, and it will appear in my account. Good, because Standard Bank has been getting beady with me about my credit card payment and a couple of stop orders that have had insufficient funds. 3 weeks after the 21 working days date, still no funds.
Patience, Mark, just call SARS again, and speak to the polite people with the efficient computer records. They tell me that indeed my 'situation' remains outstanding, and that in fact it was 'escalated to higher level support' on 2 July. The fact that it is still outstanding is mysterious to them, and they will now send a note to the 'escalated support people' to try and get the problem elevated. Can they tell me I will now get my money? Stop laughing. It's not funny. I wonder if the lovely, friendly people at the SARS Call Centre (by the way, thank you Lord, that they do not outsource to Bangalore) will be able to programme their efficient computer to refund me all the fees the bank has charged me because there has been no money in my account? You are laughing again - stop! Trevor Manual - is the South African Minister of Finance.