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Monday, 21 November 2011

The two G’s – Gullible and Greedy

Maybe I’m becoming completely paranoid, but every time I see one of those marketing ads on DStv, I say to myself, and sometimes to Liz, “How can South Africans be so gullible as to fall for that?” The “that” can be anything from a collection of see-through storage boxes to the latest product I witnessed, a flexible metallic vegetable holder that can be used for blanching vegetables and the like. “R99!” I ventured, as we waited for the price to be shown. Liz was beaten by the screen, which came up with the incredible R149.99. Liz’s first remark was “You can get those in Wal Mart for 99 cents.” – Liz is American and knows her Wal Mart prices. I know she’s right because we actually have a similar contraption in one of the kitchen cupboards that I bought in an Abu Dhabi souk some 25 years ago (my, how time flies!). In those days I paid just a couple of rupees – certainly less than the equivalent of R10. I think I’ve used the device three or four times all told. This type of product appears all too often on our television screens. The target of these clever marketing ads is the gullible South African who has never ventured outside the country’s borders, knows no better and must add this invaluable contrivance to his or her collection. 

At the other end of the scale, and this is something that can probably only be seen by visitors to South Africa, is the business that overcharges for a product or service. I have for many years held the opinion, not always to myself, that the world’s worst banks are all housed in South Africa. No bank in any other country (to the best of my knowledge) charges for putting money in the form of cash into your account. The excuse used to be “Oh, but someone has to count it.” Recently one bank that has introduced a new ATM that counts your cash decided to make the account holder pay for this once-free service, even though the ATM counts the cash. No doubt the excuse will be something like “Oh, but we have to check that the machine is correct!”. Even the government gets in on the act. How many South Africans are aware that this is probably (and I would stand corrected here) one of the only countries in the world in which you have to have a license to own a television set (other than the United Kingdom, I am informed). 

It’s not just big business that is accused of being greedy. My next door neighbour is a European who spends several months each year in South Africa. This man is an investment advisor, highly educated, and something of a philanthropist. He decided to build a house in the Eastern Cape, where he has invested in some land. The price he was charged by a local architect and the quotes he received from local building companies were, apparently, laughable. So much so that he has put his project on hold. It reminds me of another local resident of European extraction who did build a house here. He came up against a similar obstruction, and ended up flying a handful of artisans in from Europe to build the house for him from scratch. The total cost of the house including airfares was in the region of 50% of what he was quoted locally.

I am not gullible, and I’m certainly not greedy. This blog will probably do nothing to change the situation, but at least I have the satisfaction of airing my views to those that care to read them.

© Michael J Mason 2011