Osizweni residents cry foul on road construction jobs

Their names were drawn, but they never got the promised work

Photo of road with rocks on it

The road is nearly complete. Photo: Sibusiso Mdlalose

By Sibusiso Mdlalose

4 December 2019

Residents of Osizweni near Newcastle were pleased when names were drawn from a bucket for work on a R2.3 billion road construction project in March. But nine months later, as the project nears completion, some of those whose names were drawn say they were never contacted and other people got the work.

Following an outcry by some residents early in March, accusing ward committee members of favouritism in allocating jobs, the local ward councillor resorted to a so-called “finder finder” recruitment process for road contract workers.

Councillor Vukile Kubheka watched over the process as residents’ identity documents were put into two buckets. Twenty-two IDs were pulled out - those of 11 men and 11 women - for work on the tar road project managed by Umpisi Group, a Durban contractor.

The contract workers were to earn R1, 300 a month.

But many of the 22 men and women recruited during the “finder finder” process have still not been called, while some of those whose identity documents were not drawn are currently working on the road, which Khubeka says will be finished by Christmas.

Hlengiwe Bhengu, 39, was one of the 22 whose IDs were pulled out, but she has not been called.

“Surely, politics and favouritism has played a role in the recruitment system of the road construction contract because I’m one of many who have still not been called. We see those who were not selected working on the road, while we are not. Our ward councillor has not given us a proper explanation,’’ complained Bhengu, an unemployed mother of two.

Siphesihle Simelane, 25, whose name was also drawn, was not contacted either.

“I’m very disappointed, and have lost hope in our local leadership, because they make empty promises. We will never be employed for contract work as the road construction is about to be completed now.”

“It’s clear that the ward committee members have played a role once again, by employing their ‘comrades’” said Simelane, who is studying law at the University of South Africa through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

According to GroundUp’s information, only eight out of the 22 whose IDs were drawn for road contract work in March, were called.

Kubheka denied favouritism in the process. He said some of those whose names had been drawn could not be reached on the telephone numbers provided, and the contractor had to turn to others who were available at the time, with the help of ward committee members.

“Once they could not be reached on their phones, someone had to replace them.”

But both Bhengu and Simelane said they had not lost their phones or changed their numbers since March.

Asked by GroundUp if he could show that attempts had been made to contact Bhengu and Simelane, Khubeka said there was no need for him and his ward committee members to save records of dialled calls on their phones. “What is important is that people were called, some could be reached on their and some could not”.

Asked why he had not instructed ward committee members to reach Bhengu, Simelane and the others since they live in the same ward, Khubeka said GroundUp’s reporter was a journalist “with a different agenda” who did not “recognise development in the community” but focused on the negative.

Umpisi Group manager Aphiwe Mandla referred GroundUp to the ward councillor for comment.