This wonderful South African urban legend was first told to me by a former teacher, who had herself heard it from a former school secretary:
As far as I know, this really happened. It's about the old TED (Transvaal Education Department). A teacher at Orange Grove Primary School didn't receive her salary cheque for three months. After the first month, she made enquiries. The Department told her they had no record of her - although she'd been teaching for seven years and had received a cheque every month.The story is a delightful amalgamation of prejudices involving government departments. State officials, according to the legend, are absurdly incompetent, they are obstinate to the point of denying the evidence before their eyes, they are grossly insensitive, they force their victims into the poorhouse.... and some of them are rather short.
She had no choice but to wait and see what happened the next month. But the following month, she again didn't get her salary. She wrote letters, sent telegrams, and phoned them.
They still said they had no record of her. So she went to Pretoria herself, and showed them all her documentation, and basically proved her case. They finally admitted she had a point, but still insisted they had no record of her.
Finally, two days before the end of the third month, she got a phone call from the TED. They had found her file.
It turned out that one of their clerks, who was much shorter than the rest, had battled to reach her typewriter when she was sitting at her desk. So she had taken the nearest practical item - which happened to be a bunch of files - and put them on her seat, under her bum, and she could type away comfortably. I don't know how many other people weren't getting their salaries at the same time.
In the context of very real complaints about unpaid salaries at the time the story was first told (in January and March 1990), the legend had a strong ring of plausibility. Official spokesmen as much as said in the press that they didn't see the salary situation as a problem, and therefore did not see why the teachers should see it as a problem. Even urban legends have a hard time matching such glibness.
It is easy to see how, in this climate, a legend could emerge among teachers to reveal just how incompetent the education authorities can be.
* This urban legend was originally published in my first book, "The Rabbit in the Thorn Tree: Modern Myths & Urban Legends of South Africa" (Penguin, 1990).