Joburg Expat: What is Wrong with Appliances in South Africa?

September 21, 2011

What is Wrong with Appliances in South Africa?

Seriously, buying a kitchen or other electrical appliance here is definitely a challenge. For one, you never know what kind of plug it's going to come with - Euro or South African? Three-prong or two-prong Euro? this makes a difference in what kind of outlet adapter you need. And the two-prong Euro plugs are sometimes flimsy, simply falling out of the outlet.

But there are quality issues as well. I have a friend who swears that European manufacturers send their B and C quality products to Africa, the ones they couldn't sell in Europe because of production defects. The following story another friend told me recently seems to underscore that point:

I have had the most interesting time buying small appliances here in South Africa. First, I purchased three clock radios for our bedrooms.  Right off I realized that one of the radios could not be tuned into any stations without huge amounts of static. Took it back for a refund.  Several days later, my daughter found that hers no longer played the radio either.  Took it back for a refund as well -- by the way, these were Phillips (usually quite a good name, I believe!)
Earlier this week, I bought an electric water kettle (Russell Hobbs) that upon first usage dripped water from the bottom.  Not just a little water -- it gushed out the bottom.  Upon its return to Checkers, the clerk shrugged and suggested that someone must have dropped the box.  So I drove to Boardmans where someone suggested I will find high quality goods and purchased a Mellerware kettle there.  Worked great the first day.  Yesterday, it wouldn't turn on. I returned it today and got a different one.  Guess what?  It doesn't work!  It won't stay on, just keeps popping off.  If I hold down the switch for 2 minutes, I can make a lovely cup of tea and deliberate my incredible string of bad luck. 
I guess I've learned my lesson -- always keep the boxes and receipts!  I found myself digging through the rubbish bin at the street to rescue the boxes from the clock radios.

Ah, again and again those pesky clock radios keep cropping up. Note to all prospective American expats in South Africa: Buy battery alarm clocks (or dual voltage iHomes, or just use your darn cellphones) and you will have taken one huge hassle off your post-arrival to-do list! 

I couldn't help but laugh out lout at the vision of this friend going through the garbage at the street. That is SO  something that happened to me regularly when we first came here. It would have fit quite nicely into my Dustbin Saga. And if you'll remember, I would have had no trouble finding receipts from three weeks back, if I had put my mind to it, because the garbage workers were on strike and there was a huge pile sitting at the bottom of our driveway!

Oh, and I'll soon join the ranks of expat appliance shoppers in Joburg. Our trusted transformer just blew up (it had suspicious smoke coming out for weeks) and now we are without a toaster, Kitchenaid, waffle iron, and panini press. Of course it gave up its struggle the day Sunshine had to  make cookies for her market day at school, but once again that old box of German appliances in our garage has come to the rescue, in the form of an ancient, and I mean ancient, hand-held Braun mixer. What a testament to Braun that it has survived Noisette's student days in the early 90s and our years in Singapore and then about 10 unused years in a bin with other similar relics of a different era. 

But we still need a new toaster. I'm already bracing myself for switches that won't work and toast flying all over my kitchen.

5 comments :

Jozie Days said...

Oh dear Sine, I had a chuckle reading this! I have an old Kenwood Chef from 30 years ago that had to be dragged out of it's hiding place a few weeks ago as my 15 year old Phillips hand mixer had just dies after a particularly hard work out for birthday cakes. I bought a new Russell Hobbs hand mixer and found that the cable was so short that it did not even reach my bowl. I have since returned it and bought a new Phillips (with a lovely long cord) - and as this week is my son's 17th birthday and he is having a 24 hour LAN party for 15 boys, I will be making 2 birthday cakes and several other items that require a mixer - so let's see how long this new one lasts! (PS for those who do not have 'computer nerd kids' a LAN is when they all bring their desk top computers to one house connect them via a hub and then play games all night!)

Jozie Days said...

For your new toaster why don't you try Dion Wired at Cedar Square. They seem to have a good variety. I always keep the boxes and write the date on the boxes and pt the till slip (or a photocopy inside the box.) If the item lasts past the warranty date then you can chuck the box out.

Sine said...

Thanks for the tip on Dion Wired, will have to try that out! Though I did already buy a toaster (Philipps, 4 slots, which I've always wanted) and it seems to be working like a charm for now. Love the story with the cord that's too short. What are these manufacturers thinking? Great tip on keeping the boxes and writing date and stapling receipt on them, will have to do that too, otherwise never can find one or the other! And thanks for the bit of parent education re LAN parties, that sounds cool (though I'm not sure about the 24-hour part!). Good luck!

W. A. Jeffrey said...

If you can't find the good stuff, it might be best just to order a new transformer from the USA along with quality appliances. Expensive, but perhaps worth it in the long run. Of course I tend to be kind of cavalier about money when it comes to some things so perhaps I am not the best one to listen to.

Sine said...

We did end up getting a transformer from Amazon, however it's not an ideal solution. A) you can't plug everything in it, in every room, and it's too heavy to lug around. B) not sure if it's supposed to do this, but the one we now use here for the espresso machine we bought in SA gets very hot and we suspect uses quite a bit of electricity. So, we have to always unplug it when not in use. Not a big deal you'll say, but you then also have to unplug the appliance, because when you turn it back on, the appliance needs to be unplugged, on account of the power surge when plugging it in. If you leave the appliance in there, it can get fried. Happened to us too. So, there is always a lot of unplugging and replugging going on, just to make coffee!