Vusi Ndlovu

Vusi Ndlovu

There is never a dull moment at the African Gainako Poverty Alleviation Project, a private college masquerading as a poverty alleviation project in Orlando East, Soweto.

Day 1, Wednesday August 13: I arrive at the college at 9:15am and am directed to the small registration office. An assistant explains: "Before you write [the exam], you have to bring in two students as part of your marketing course."

I pay my fees and am shown to my class. There I'm dumbfounded by the mass of students perched wherever they can find a spot. The class is so overcrowded that I doubt I will find a seat.

Minutes later Salif enters and begins teaching, but every 10 minutes or so he dashes out to attend to other business.

Much of his lecture appears to have little to do with call centres. He emphasises the importance of knowing your surroundings then launches into a lecture on the United Nations.

He piles on observations that add nothing to our supposed professional training: "Unesco [the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation], this is the body that advises ministers and kings. That is why [President Thabo] Mbeki cannot tell these kings anything."

We are supposed to break for lunch at 11am, but Salif informs us he wants to finish everything planned for the day and then go home at noon.

Day 2, Thursday August 14: The confusion continues. Vivian is the teacher for the day, but another teacher pitches up to conduct the computer course being offered in the same classroom at the same time.

Students sit facing blackboards at both ends of the room. Vivian launches into a diatribe on the importance of the International Phonetic Alphabet, but cannot explain what it is or why it should be relevant to call-centre operators.

Her soft voice can't compete with the resonant bass of the teacher of the computer students at the other end of the room.

Vivian eventually gives up after two hours and asks us to move next door. But the students erupt in distress. Cries of "That class is very dirty and full of dust," and "There are rats running through that class" meet her call.

Eventually we take our improvised seats next door where Lethukuthula Thuli Zulu takes over. He teaches us how to make a telephone call, transfer it and take a message.

Vivian returns about an hour later and continues where Zulu left off.

She has the good grace to act offended when Salif kicks us out the class because he wants to hold a meeting. She struggles to teach us after lunch, citing the humiliation she suffered in the eviction.

We are handed the so-called marketing notes we had been promised: a scrap of paper we will have to hand in when we come back with our recruits. This form, we are told, will constitute half of our marks for marketing, which has not been taught as a subject.

Day 3, Friday August 15: We continue with advanced practical exercises: making, answering and transferring a phone call. Two office workers come in and stress we will only be able to write our exams on Monday if we bring two fresh students to be enrolled.

Day 4, Monday 18 August: I arrive with two colleagues as my recruits. I impress many of my classmates who are unable or unwilling to enrol friends or acquaintances as sacrificial lambs for the slaughter on the altar of the fast buck.