The informal brick makers of Dordrecht

“We are only working to put food on the table, nothing else” says Tinashe Mandobe who has made bricks in the small Eastern Cape town since 2004

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Tinashe Mandobe and her husband Thandekile Mangaliso have been informal brick makers in the small Eastern Cape town of Dordrecht for nearly two decades. Photos: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

Thandekile Mangaliso and his wife Tinashe Mandobe work all day, in summer’s scorching heat, at an informal brick works in the small Eastern Cape town of Dordrecht since 2004. Some days they make as little as R30.

The couple are among about 20 casual workers who take turns to work for eight owners of small brick making companies at a site on an open field near the Dordrecht hospital, just off the R392 to Komani (formally Queenstown).

With very few job prospects and high unemployment rates in the town and the broader Emalahleni region, Mangaliso and his Mandobe wake up early each day to start at as early as 6:30am. Mandobe brings her grandchildren along because her daughter does casual work and cannot afford daycare.

The couple are paid when they finish the day’s order. They earn between R30 to R350, depending on the size of the order for that day. Mangaliso says if they make about 1,000 bricks, he makes R200 per day.

They support their daughter and two grandchildren with their income. When GroundUp visited the site, in 28-degree heat Mangaliso was mixing soil with charcoal before adding rainwater. The charcoal is brought by the business owners from Indwe, some 39km away. When he has mixed the mud, he makes the bricks in moulds with his bare hands and leaves them to dry, he says. Baking the bricks takes about a week before they are ready to be sold.

Their target for that week was 4,000 bricks.

Thandekile Mangaliso making bricks from mud, water and charcoal.

“My wife started first,” says Mangaliso. “At the time I was still looking for a job with no luck. Some days she would come home very frustrated because she did not meet her target. I decided to join her so we can work together to meet the target faster.”

“This job is not easy, it takes determination to do it.”

While Mandobe worked, her grandchildren aged three and one were playing in the mud nearby. The one-year-old fell asleep while GroundUp was there. Mandobe covered a piece of ground with plastic and a blanket and made a shelter with zinc sheets to cover the child from the sun. The site was covered in ash and smoke from the ovens where the bricks are baked.

“We are working to put food on the table, nothing else,” says Mandobe.

But she is pleased to have work every day, unless it rains. She says she hopes the market will grow and she and her husband will find permanent work.

Of the 13 casual workers we saw working on the day, no one wore safety gloves and only one person was wearing a safety mask.

The owners could not take on permanent staff because of uncertainties about sales, said Xolile Kewuti, one of the onwers. “We all rely on orders and when it rains, we do not work.”

“Some months are good, some are bad. And the process of making this kind of bricks takes time.”

He said he learned the business from his late grandmother who had run a similar operation. Small bricks are sold for around R1.10 and big bricks from R2.20, he said.

Asked about the lack of protective gear, Kewuti said he encourages the workers to buy themselves masks and gloves. “These are casual workers. One day a person is here, the next they don’t come which means I would have to buy them almost every day,” he said.

“The plan is for every young person in the community to have a chance to come here to earn something,” he said.

Bricks are laid out to dry for several days.

Emalahleni Local Municipality spokesperson Luthando Nqumkana said there had been complaints from people living nearby about dust and smoke from the brick making site. An alternative site had been found and a new brick making machine had been provided, but the business owners had not moved, he said.

But the workers told GroundUp that the area provided by the municipality is too far and they would have to take a taxi to work which most of them can’t afford.

TOPICS:  Unemployment

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