Zuma's presidential hotline goes into meltdown

It seemed the perfect gesture to burnish Jacob Zuma’s credentials as a man of the people. A “presidential hotline”, inviting ordinary South Africans to let off steam, showed him as a listening leader. Zuma himself was on hand to field calls at 9am on the first day.

But since it was piloted on 14 September, Zuma’s phone has been ringing off the hook.
Thousands of people have tried to get through to vent years of pent-up frustrations about jobs, housing and public services. Consequently the system has gone into meltdown.

When the Guardian tried phoning 17737 today, it was greeted with a recorded message: “Due to extremely high call volumes we are unable to attend to your call. Please call again, goodbye.” Many others say they have had the same experience.

The R4-million scheme that was intended to allow people to air their grievances is now itself the subject of complaints. Opposition politicians have seized their chance to turn Zuma’s coup de theatre against him.

The Democratic Alliance says it tested the hotline 46 times during the past three weeks but has been able to register only four complaints, and has not been given a reference number for any of them.

The party leader, Helen Zille, said that 42 calls failed to get through and its callers spent 572 minutes on hold—a total of nine hours and 32 minutes.

“When President Zuma launched the hotline, he said he wanted to create an ‘ethos of accountability’,” Zille said. “During his state of the nation address he undertook to treat every complaint as if it were the only one. As every day passes, that commitment rings increasingly hollow.”

She added: “At the end of the first week, it was clear the presidency had designed a system that could not meet the requirements of the undertaking. By the second week, things had not improved. And, by the third week the situation is completely inadequate and, at least in practical terms, dysfunctional.”

On its first day of operation, manned by 43 liaison staff at the presidential headquarters, the free hotline took 27 000 calls. More than 2 500 were received in the first hour, increasing to 7 000 in the third hour.

Zuma has been forced to respond to the criticism, promising the problems getting through will be dealt with. “We are working to address this challenge to ensure that we give every call the attention it deserves,” he said.

Zuma disclosed that common queries related to housing, water and electricity, as well as corruption, unfair dismissals and general unemployment issues. There were also numerous calls by young people about school and university fees.

In a bid to escape embarrassment, the president had one last card to play—he claimed the phone logjam simply showed how many people want to voice their concerns and should therefore be seen as a success, not a failure. - guardian.co.uk

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