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Road repair work brings ‘tears of joy in my heart and soul’

2019-04-09 11:30

The Expanded Public Works Programme set itself a five-year target to create 6 million work opportunities by last month. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. In what ways do these temporary opportunities change people’s lives or fail to do so?

For the past four years, Charlize Jacobs from Manenberg on the Cape Flats has supported a family of six by maintaining roads and filling potholes around Cape Town.

The 27-year-old mother joined the city’s Women at Work road repair programme – part of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) – as a contract worker in 2015, and last month received her first paycheque as a full-time employee of the city.

The contract job, and now becoming a full-time employee, has brought her much joy.

“I feel amazing. Words cannot express how I’m feeling,” said Jacobs, speaking from the City of Cape Town’s Green Point depot.

“I mean, I’ve been crying tears of joy in my heart and in my soul. I never saw this coming – it just happened all of a sudden, me receiving that call. So, finally, my prayers were answered.”

As a contract worker, Jacobs earned R1 200 every two weeks. Now her salary will be R7 000 a month and she will have pension and medical aid benefits.

Charlize Jacobs

She puts food on the table for her mother, her father, her 19-year-old brother and 33-year-old-sister, who are both unemployed, and her seven-year-old son, who is now in Grade 1 at the Rio Grande Primary School in Manenberg.

“Yes, I’m the breadwinner,” she said. “It got really tough. Sometimes there wasn’t transport money to get to work, but I managed because I had to.

"Initially, I thought: ‘Wow, it’s going to be hard work!’ I mean, it’s men’s work; very physical. I thought that when I got home at night, my body would be broken and exhausted, but I have learnt to recharge.”

Jacobs clocks in at 7.30am and finishes at 4pm every weekday.

The women ply their trade in teams of six; and while Jacobs spoke to City Press, Tahiera Adams (46), Gadija Fortune (22), Kaashiefah Samuels (37), Belinda du Plooy (44) and Nolusindiso Sidlai (31) could be seen busy working on a pothole inside the depot premises, loosening old tarmac with picks, loading material into a waiting digger, then stamping down the fresh asphalt with a shuddering machine that needs two people to operate.

Ingrid Brown, the city’s Women at Work project leader, said they had 22 all-woman road repair teams deployed across Cape Town at depots including Hout Bay, Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain, Kraaifontein and Delft.

At many of the depots, women’s toilets and mess rooms had to be built because there were originally only facilities available for men.

Brown said the promotions process within the programme was competitive: “Women [EPWP participants] are randomly selected to be eligible for permanent positions, but then have to go through a competitive process with other shortlisted candidates.”

Also at the depot was Salome Sekgonyana, head of Cape Town’s EPWP, who shook hands with the women in the team, passing on warm greetings.

The Women at Work programme, which was founded in 2015, sees women “trained to do repair and maintenance work on roads, footways and storm water infrastructure”, states a subcouncil document. Subcouncils are structures that serve as the link between communities and the city council.

“The purpose of the training programme is to empower women in the workplace … The bigger picture is that this project benefits society at large, especially in changing general perceptions about the ability of women to compete equally in a male-dominated industry.”

Back at the depot, Sidlai, who is from Delft, has also been with the programme since 2015. She was up for a promotion to a full-time position last month as well.

“I am very happy; more than happy,” said Sidlai. “On the first day, it was difficult for me – it was new and I was nervous. But each day, we learnt and saw what to do. Since I started working here, I enjoy going out. I enjoy going to work and meeting new people.”

  • This package is part of a journalism partnership with Africa Check, the continent’s leading fact-checking organisation. The project aims to ensure that claims made by those in charge of state resources and delivering essential services are factually correct. In the run-up to this year’s national and provincial elections it will be increasingly important that voters are able to make informed decisions. This series aims to provide voters with the tools to do that. The Raith Foundation contributed to the cost of reporting. 

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April 21 2019