Back in the late 1990s I lived in Johannesburg and there was a fellow displaying an Isuzu bakkie next to the road. He had a sign saying it was the worst 4x4 ever and the chassis broke in two or something like that and without any reason too. When he complained he was told he abused the vehicle and carried the loss. In fact the company told him to take a hike. I did not mind that, at the time I drove a Nissan Sani 4x4 with the V6 engine. It was big, powerful and light on fuel for its size. Well, perhaps also because I never drove above 100km anyway and used the air conditioner every now and then. Why I don't know, I had money those days and could afford to drive a lot faster. When you are a practicing attorney at an internationally known law firm, I am ashamed to say these days, you are a bit more arrogant than most. I thank God that such arrogance was kicked out of me by the school of hard knocks in the years to come. These days I drive at that speed because that is all that my car can do and I have lost my arrogance along the way. I also got older and realised leaving ten minutes early allows for the same arrival time.
I don't know what happened further between this guy and his Isuzu but they did try to silence him with court orders called an interdict or injunction in other legal jurisdictions. None succeeded. They ran into that old long haired liberal human right called "Freedom of Speech" which at the time was something new, in that format, in South Africa. Now note, it is not unlimited, no right is and if you start going on about something called hate speech you are heading for big trouble. And you know what I mean. That is where you call your neighbor an unholy Arabic word and he you a farmer etc. We talked about it before.
So I was not surprised this morning that one fellow, also in Johannesburg, you have to wonder why, made a banner sign telling CellC what he thinks of them. They are also now "seeking legal advice" which is a thinly disguised threat designed to make you back down. You will know from reading my bankster book, Your Worst Enemy, that I find such threats laughable but that is me, I am a highly experienced legal man and willing to cost anyone taking me on millions. I am also set up in such a way that you will never get a cent out of me either. That is the way we educated men describe ourselves when we have nothing of value left for anyone to attach if we should lose a case. We are also never broke but have cash flow problems. :) It is, as I also said in that book, rather nice to be that poor. It makes it plain stupid to sue you.
How far will CellC get? I don't know and cannot say for I don't know the merits of this case but I would guess not far. What I can tell you, in my opinion, is that the incidents were handled completely wrong by both CellC and Isuzu. These days with the internet and ultra-fast communications they should have stopped the complaint from spiraling out of control in the first place. Or, place their own add to invite everyone to hear their side of the story. But they did not. They ran to the lawyers who may well say "you know, we need to protect your corporate reputation" (really? what reputation? would it not be better to be the good guys and do the right thing and so win some new clients) "and we suggest an interdict in the local high court to stop this fellow from abusing you" (yes that would only cost more than R100k and is not urgent anyway and will take a week or two). Such is lawyer's advice for anything else would cost them fees and you don't want that. Client has a problem; the law has got an answer at his cost. That is the first rule of a successful lawyer. The client always pays as much as he can afford to pay.
As a matter of fact I too am disgusted with CellC today. The last week my internet connection would break down every now and then which means disruption, restarting the Wi-Fi device and waiting impatiently for the laptop to connect again. Now usually that would not be a major issue but my clients are all overseas based. I don't have South African clients for reasons I don't really get for my services could help here too. The clients talk to me on Skype and when the internet goes offline as it frequently does...it becomes very embarrassing. Not so much for me who can and most certainly do blame the ISP, which is CellC. What is embarrassing is that the client would say "Ah yes, Africa!" as if they don't expect anything else and are resigned to second class service providers. It is sad because I also wrote in Tricks of Trade - Memories of a Rogue Lawyer, never to lower your standards when in Africa. We have good doctors, lawyers (yes even them), engineers and in general, good folk. We don't need this type of thing to prove me wrong. How do I defend our honour when we are in the wrong? A good, fast and dependable internet connection is these days, almost a human right and not for free either. It is damn expensive, about five times more expensive and one hundred times slower than what it should be. It is costing the economy billions according to the clever MBA's.
What can I do about it? Legally nothing! As you can imagine they are covered in their contracts with you against this and you would sweat blood to prove it cost you money (damages) and hence you have a claim. And they are all covered like that, not only CellC. Ok, so what about a banner add next to the road? I don't have time for such nonsense and the aggro which will come with it. I have a life, not a great one but one busy enough not to follow that route. Then I can call the helpline and will run into red tape. Yes the girl on the other side will have the patience of Job and give me the run around for a few days until I have calmed down. I would also feel bad for taking my anger out on her knowing she is not to blame. You will note when you call such places that you will never get to someone important to complain to. The system is designed that way - to keep the customers where they belong. Lastly, I can start another senseless exercise by lodging a complaint at websites like "Hellopeter.com" which will make me feel good but the results will still be zero. It will not cost CellC one client. However, the best marketing is still word of mouth. When a client moves to Africa and he asks my advice on which cell phone provider to use, who do you think I will not advise him to look at? That is how you get your own back at a listed company. It may be small and unimportant to them but you will feel much better. Ah, let me reboot the Wi-Fi again.
Koos Kotze is a former member of the South African Police Force. He served between 1985 and 1991 primarily as a sergeant in the Pretoria Flying Squad. After leaving the Police Force he obtained the law degrees B Iuris & LLB at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and was a practicing commercial law attorney for eight years. He also wrote several books on business, law, counter terrorism and security issues. He is a widower and lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa.