Labourers are men and women who do immense amounts of casual work every day to earn a decent living. One doesn’t need any qualifications to become a labourer since it has no area of specialisation.
When labourers go to work, they wear smart casual clothes. You wouldn’t even think that person sitting next to you in a kombi in the morning is a labourer, especially the women.
Once they arrive at their work places, they change clothing. Labourers wear blue overalls and big steel toe protective boots as working gear. Tebogo, who’s a labourer for Water Utilities Corporation, says, “We wear protective gear to avoid getting our clothes filthy. We also put on these overalls as corporate uniform to represent who we work for.”
All things necessary, labourers are very hard workers. A labourer’s job basically entails performing casual work duties like lifting heavy objects or mixing concrete with cement. Some slash grass whilst others cut bushes and dig trenches. For labourers to work, they need tools like picks, shovels and wheel barrows etc.
“We use brooms given to us by the city council to sweep the streets,” says Masego, who works for Ipelegeng. Labourers usually work in large groups.
When it approaches mid day, a woman labourer is released from amongst the working group to go and prepare lunch. Such women labourers who cook for the rest are usually referred to as the ‘in charge’. The in charge normally cooks maize meal and hot, spicy chicken feet, gizzards or necks. They use large sized, rinsed out coffee tins as cooking pots over a huge bonfire.
If there’s no in charge, labourers eat out. During lunch, they eat fat cakes with bone marrow soup.
Labourers have a tendency or habit of running tabs and opening accounts with street vendors, especially during the middle of the month when they are broke.
“Come monthend, they quarrel with us vendors. We fight over unpaid debts, because some disappear after getting paid,” says Mma Girly, a tuck-shop owner in Block 7.
After lunch, in the scorching heat, labourers like taking power naps beneath cool shades on heaps of river sand. They lie down with their knees up.
“Most labourers don’t like the foreman; because the foreman makes us work extra hard,” says Rapula Batotilwe, a brick moulding labourer at Panda Bricks.
According to Rapula, labourers normally have a foreman amongst them who is also their driver. “The foreman reports directly to the boss, so they could have an immeasurable amount of influence during hiring or firing,” says Rapula. “If a foreman sees that a labourer is lazy or anything along that line, then he can have a labourer fired. It’s the reason why labourers always have to keep him consistently impressed.”
During weekends, after getting paid, labourers like hanging out at Chibuku depots. They drink shake shake for the whole day, listening to Splash from the juke box, and playing snooker. Still at the depots, some labourers end up losing all their money through gambling. They spend hours playing dodgy card games like casino or throwing dice with the hope of making some extra money.
“After losing, some labourers end up dangerously locking horns, literally demanding rematches,” says Tebatso Seakale, a night security guard.
Labourers who are employed under the Ipelegeng short term employment scheme say they aren’t job secure.
“What’s the use of me working for a couple of months then that’s it,” says Sungwasha Mazwiduma, currently a casual labourer under Ipelegeng as a street sweeper.
“I have six children to raise and when this thing ends I don’t know what I’m going to do afterwards. It’s better I move back to Tutume Village because life is tough in the city.”