08 August 2012

Economic Systems Segregation

Yesterday, Tuesday 7 August, I made an online reservation with South African Airways to fly from Port Elizabeth airport. The flight became necessary as train and bus services could be affected by severe weather conditions in South Africa. For flight payment, I redeemed South African Voyager frequent flyer points. Although the flight is free, one must pay significant surcharges that include, among others, airport taxes and fuel levies. During the online reservation, one can choose for payment by credit card, or at South African airways offices within 72 hours. Zambian banks do not provide for credit cards; therefore, I had to opt for the latter.

Today I went to the airport to pay the surcharges. At this time, the airline representative told I must pay an additional service charge of ZAR 500 (= USD 60.75) as I was not paying online by credit card.

As mentioned, Zambian banks do not provide for credit card services. As to curb personal credit, they cannot be gotten in the country. The same might be valid in Zimbabwe and a number of other African countries. Recently the situation eased when Zambian banks could provide for VISA Electron debit cards, at least. South African Airways explicitly excludes payments by debit cards.

For a person living within Zambian realities, there is no way to avoid the extra SAR 500 'service charge'. The South African Airways representative empathised upon hearing my complaint. She mentioned she was not aware of such a situation. There was no way around. The result: segregation forces to me pay an extra levy of SAR 500.

This situation is not unique. From our Zambian realities, we struggle with most international payments from Africa.

Flight tickets we buy online using US based Expedia, whom accepts VISA debit cards. Their system rejects payments from Africa often. However, after a costly call to their service center in the USA, involving sitting in a queue listening to music, payment goes through most of the times. If this fails, the only other option for me is to buy tickets online in the Netherlands, using a Netherlands based bank account. Such option is not available for Zambians.

For calling normal phones, we rely on Skype-out. This assures we can understand the other person, as phone quality from rural Zambia is mostly poor. Recently Skype stopped accepting payment using our Zambian debit card; subsequently we cannot call standard phones anymore.

Let me not discuss the difficulties of renting of cars or putting down a deposit in hotels.

I conclude, today, I received a SAR 500 fine from South African Airways for living in Zambia. And, Skype does not allow us to call ordinary phones as a consequence of our living in Zambia. When traveling abroad and paying a large amount of cash, for instance in hotels, I feel peculiar.

There is still lots to learn and adapt for seamless service provisioning and fight segregation in a shrinking world.