In accordance with prophecy, @MTNza extort money from me.

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 2.31.03 PMSo, a couple of months ago, I decided to become a prepaid cellphone customer, after having been a contract customer of MTN’s pretty much since cellphones become a thing in South Africa. At least two friends will vouch for the fact that I said, when plotting my escape from the contract, that MTN would find a way to get an extra month’s subscription out of me. And lo, it has now come to pass.

MTN – I was unsure if I wanted to port or not, and was going to wait to see who had the next phone I wanted before deciding on that. It’s probably fair to say that you’ve made the decision a little easier.

Let’s start with this screencap from their website:

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 2.03.43 PM

So, given that my contract expired on September 8, my email of August 8 requested cancellation, as well as migration to prepaid. As requested, by their website. I know that they got this email, because they replied to it, today, 32 days later, after I had yelled at someone on the phone.

MTN

You’d think the email would be enough. But given the cynicism expressed by the prophesy I had made, I also went into an MTN shop that day (August 8, 31 days before expiry). In front of me, I have the fax, sent by the staff there to head office, requesting a move to prepaid. The store clerk said neither the fax, nor my email, were necessary – because things don’t work that way. He said I should just call 808 (customer service) when my contract expired.

I said, that makes no sense. Because when my contract expires, it will roll over to month-to-month on the same terms. So, if I were to call on September 9 (the first day of being out-of-contract), I’d already be committed to another billing cycle. He said, no, you’ll be fine. I said, no, your website says 30 days, and that makes more sense. So please send the faxes.

And then Saturday came, the day before my contract was to expire. So, just to make sure of everything, I called 808. They said they can do nothing for me, and that I should call back on Monday. I said, okay, but that’s a new billing cycle – given that I have emailed a month’s notice, and faxed the same, I take it I won’t be charged for a whole new month? They said, you’ll be fine.

Today, I call at 8am, and request that the cancellation and migration to prepaid take effect. Have you used the airtime and data, I’m asked? Well, I shouldn’t have any – my contract terminates yesterday, and in fact, I shouldn’t be able to call you right now, I guess, seeing as I’m out of contract. “Oh no, sir – you’re now on a new billing cycle, ending October 8. If we convert you to prepaid now, you’ll lose your minutes and data”.

As predicted. And instead of going through this again on October 8, I said cancel, immediately. I know I’ll lose the minutes and the data, and that you have extorted R450-ish from me, thanks to not following the procedures you ask me, your customer, to follow on your website. So, anyone else wanting to leave MTN, be advised that they sometimes seem to keep you hostage when you do. Well played, you got your ransom.

Someone’s serious business, my frivolity

While the bulk of material on Synapses is rather serious in nature, I must confess that I sometimes engage in trivial pursuits. Like laughing at the way in which people sometimes take themselves far too seriously, and flying to London for 4 days, simply to watch a FA Cup Quarter-Final match between Manchester United and Arsenal. Below, I offer a brief account of these two activities, in the hope that readers will sometimes be less critical of the more serious things I have to say, now that they have confirmation that I’m just like them (well, sort of).

So, as to how people can take themselves far too seriously: Yesterday, after having pledged to make dinner for myself and The Doctor, a trip to Gardens Centre was required in order to procure ingredients. Walking past the MTN store, I remembered that I had had difficulty with roaming while in London, and I therefore walked in to make enquiries. While chatting to the clerk, a woman came in, and started addressing the customer in line behind me (the only one). She asked him how long he’d been waiting, emphasising that she was short on time.

Not long, he said, but this was insufficiently reassuring. “I don’t have time to twiddle my thumbs”, she said. She then asserted that she would get on with other business, and that this customer should ensure that her place in the queue was preserved. In a somewhat bemused fashion, he offered an ambiguous mumble, and she departed. Upon returning, and finding herself next in line, she forcefully dropped her phone on the counter, and started loudly complaining that it was misbehaving.

The staff tinkered, at one point plugging it in to check that it was charged. Big mistake. “I charged it this morning! Do you think I’m stupid?”, she yelled. But the problem had something to do with turning off/on, and they were unable to diagnose the fault right there. So they offered to take it in for repairs. No – “it’s not worth repairing. It only cost me R100”, she said. “Well, is it under guarantee? We can take it in for repairs, and offer you a loan phone in the meanwhile”, the staff offered.

“No! You must replace it”. She pointed to the MTN branding on the phone, and said, waving her arms around to gesture at the store walls, “all of this here made this phone, and is responsible for it!”. They then dared to ask if she had bought it there. But she had not – she had bought it at the Waterfront CNA. Well then, ma’am, we can’t help you – you must take it there, and I imagine if you have your receipt, they will be able to help. “Who keeps receipts!”, she yelled. “And do you mean I have to traipse all the way to the Waterfront? I don’t have time for that!”. “We can’t help you, ma’am – you didn’t buy it here, and even if you did, we’d need your receipt to be able to help”.

So she storms out. About ten minutes later (I was having a long geeky conversation with a clerk), she appeared in the doorway and announced: “I have bought a phone from Vodacom!”. Then, she steps in, throws the phone on the floor, and starts stomping on it and crushing it with her heel, shrieking things like “this is what I think of MTN!”. She kicks pieces of phone in the direction of the helpdesk, and storms out again. But – she had forgotten something. Seconds later, she re-appears, throws the charger into the store, and yells “and you can hang yourselves on THIS!”.

We all had a good laugh, and one store clerk had some good fortune, as it appears the phone, once reassembled, was now in better working order.

The other frivolity involved my friend, the occasional celebrity “After-dinner mint” (at least according to a P4 radio billboard that once bore his mugshot), calling me last Sunday to suggest the audacious plan of flying to London to watch football. So we did, because the game was at Old Trafford, home of the best football team (and the ugliest footballer). And seeing as he is an Arsenal fan, and they were “our” opposition, I could look forward to plenty of gloating at his expense once we secured our inevitable victory (2-0 to Manchester United was the eventual score. As the crowd kept reminding the MintMan, his team “is just a shit Barcelona”).

And London was fun. We went to pubs, ate at fat-lip Jamie’s Italian (and, with another friend, at Heston Blumenthal’s Hinds Head, where I enjoyed a 52-hour cooked pork belly). We hung with Simon Pegg at a bar in Covent Garden (no, not really, but he was there), and took lots of Tube rides and a train to Manchester. We learnt that orang-utans use tree bark for sexual pleasure (so the poster said – not empirically verified by us), and that strange fox-like creatures in London steal stuff from your car, if you’re not sufficiently watchful. We saw a famous (I imagine) mouldy wall outside our hotel room. It became known to us that the disabled have access to an “ability suite” at Old Trafford. And also, I discovered that Eton has a “Porny School”, which might be useful information to some of you.