Public roads jobs making a difference

Friday, November 6, 2015

By Neo Semono

In a country grappling with high numbers of unemployment, public works programmes such as construction and rehabilitation of roads is proving to be making a difference in the lives of many.

Ephesia Kau is one of the many women road construction workers working on the rehabilitation of roads in South Africa. Like many, she was unemployed and struggling and the job has provided her with a regular income and is providing her with skills she didn’t have before.

These women are turning the tide of poverty in their households and say they are breaking the stereotype that road construction work is too strenuous a job for women.

Kau is currently working on the construction done on the M26, a portion of the R511 and a portion of the R114 between Laudium and Diepsloot.

Kau, like her other two co-workers Gugu Ngobese and Linky Matjiane, got jobs on the project through the Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport.

“Before I got this job, I was not working. I enjoy what I do now,” says 44-year old Ngobese.

The women are now able to put bread on the table for themselves and their families but they will not forget what it was like to be unemployed.

“Life was very hard. I was always thinking about how I will provide for my children. I’m a single parent to seven children aged between seven and 31 years of age. We were relying on my children’s grant money,” explains Matjiane.

Matjiane’s older two children were assisting her with the little that they earned at their respective jobs.

Her children attend school at no fee schools in Limpopo. “Now I am able to send money to them,” she says.

Matjiane’s sentiments are echoed by Ngobese, a single mother with three children.

The women have no qualms to the notion that the road construction sector is traditionally known to be male dominated.

“Yes some people think that women can’t do this type of work. But I know that I am strong and I can do this job even though I am a woman.  Some of the men have told us that women should be ones holding the flag to direct cars passing by the road,” says Ngobese.

Ngobese says she is passionate about her job and is not bothered by sentiments that she is in a field that is typically male dominated.

The women were employed through the help of local councillors when the project began in July 2013.

Kau, who lives in nearby Mooiplaas and turns 31 in November had previously worked on a road construction project that ended up being terminated.

“I worked for a short period of time before the contract was terminated.  When the contract was terminated our councillor then informed those of us who were working here that we would get first preference for jobs when the new contractor arrived,” she said.

However, it was not easy for Kau to land her current job.

By a chance of luck, her ID book was among those pulled from a box which landed her a job.

Kau started working on the current project on 21 August 2013.

For 52 year old Matjiane, she was also employed through the assistance of her councillor in Mooiplaas who advised her to take her details to the local community liaison officer. 

The three women started off with little knowledge of road construction but they were willing to learn the ropes.

Part of Ngobese’s job is to direct trucks at the site on where to offload and how to offload. 

While some men have proven to be difficult, some are supportive of female road construction workers, adds Kau.

Although work on the project comes to an end in December, the women hope to still work in road construction thanks to the skills they have acquired.

“I love this. I hope to one day have my own construction company. Construction is challenging but I love it,” says Kau.

“This job has changed my life. I used to struggle a lot. Now I can send my children to school and I was able to buy myself a second hand car,” says Ngobese.

On a typical work day, the women start work at 6:45 am and finish work at 4:45 pm, Monday to Saturdays.

“We don’t even get sunburnt anymore because we rise with the sun. We don’t even sweat anymore because we are so used to working in the sun all day,” said Matjiane.

According to site manager of Stefanutti Stocks Roads and Earthworks Chris Hattingh, the project is currently employing about 125 locals.

“At the moment, we’ve got 39.2 % women, 68% youths and 8% disabled people,” said Hattingh.

The project will conclude on 9 December 2015. –

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