GEORGE NEWS - For the last two weeks, SAFM ran a series of programmes on various issues with a focus on Thembalethu, the township in George.
Embedded in every story and every interview is the absolute poverty in which the people of the township live, with more than 80% of the residents marked as unemployed. According to the SABC radio journalist Mlamli Maneli, who initiated and coordinated this programme series, Thembalethu is one of the poorest townships in the Western Cape.
Those who are fortunate enough to land a job are very often highly underpaid, have little or no job security and share the little that they do have with a family of eight to 12 people.
During a recent visit to a school gardening project of Michele Schubert, director of Earthchild in George, the George Herald used the opportunity to have an informal discussion with six of the Earthchild gardeners at MM Mateza Primary.
These workers have been employed by Earthchild through a development programme funded by the national public works department. They explain that they receive R50 per day for a full day’s gardening, which amounts to R1 000 per month.
Although they are very grateful to have landed a job, they feel that it is unfair that their payment is channelled from government to public works, to Child Welfare and sometimes only reaches them six weeks later.
"Everything we do, we do for the govern-ment and the children," says Ndora Nondala, one of the gardeners. "Why can’t government try to give us a realistic salary? We work very hard for very little."
Their complaints include the fact that they are employed on the same basis as the workers who pick up litter in the streets and residential areas. According to Nondala, these workers receive about R2 500 per month.
Everyone of these six gardeners have children - some even have three. Crippled by poverty, the general state of mind of these parents is one of depression, desperation and anger.
"It is impossible to listen to long-term plans, when you have a hungry stomach," says Nondala, who has a little girl of nine months.
Luckily for these gentlemen they are still earning an income, albeit small, from the Earthchild project. Their contract expires in less than a year, and they have absolutely no idea what they will do after that.
Meanwhile, one of the gardeners, Gcinisizwe Noyakaza, partnered with his Canadian wife Catherine Robar and formed a local NGO, the Themba Development Initiative.
Through this project they try their utmost to help other residents in Thembalethu by developing practical skills like painting, gardening and house building.
Robar is currently back in Canada to raise more funds for their project. For more information on their initiative, contact Gcinisizwe on 084 877 0763 or e-mail Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article and photos: Michelle Pienaar
Dayeni Thando, Makoula Mbulelo, Ndora Nondala, Vuyisani Zazini, Gcinisizwe Noyakaza and (back) Songezo Ntetshame.