South Africa

South Africa

GroundUp: Day after day, waiting by the roadside for work

GroundUp: Day after day, waiting by the roadside for work

Peter Ndala earns his living by doing odd jobs. He does gardening, maintenance work on sewage pipes, paving, woodwork and farm work. Everyday he waits at the roadside hoping he'll be hired for a day or more by anyone looking for casual labour. By Johnnie Isaac for GROUNDUP.

Ndala lives in a shack in the backyard of an RDP house in Mfuleni. In the morning, he walks to his roadside spot. Dozens of other men join him, waiting and hoping.


“Most times we get hired on a first-come, first-served basis. You have to be very quick to jump when the bakkie looking for people stops. But some white bosses know who they are looking for, maybe someone familiar who has done work for them before. They just select who they want,” Ndala says.


Most of their employers are contractors who look for people when they have a tender to do a particular task.


Ndala says that it is difficult to budget because, “you don’t know what to expect each day”. Income is variable. Sometimes he earns R100 a day, but some employers pay as little as R70. Sometimes he goes to look for a more stable job, but he finds it a waste of time. “You spend the whole day looking and find nothing and think if you would have waited by the roadside you could have been hired, even if it’s just for the day.”


Ndala supports his sick uncle, who can’t walk or talk. “We don’t talk about what he’s suffering from. We think he can be cured by traditional practitioners but we don’t have money for that,” he says.


He locks his uncle inside the house owing to crime in the area. “We have lost things before because people come and steal what they want in his presence, because they know he can’t do anything.”


“It’s not an easy job,” he says. DM


All photos by Masixole Feni.


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