Public Works employees sleep outside post office for a week

Employees of the Extended Public Works Programme have been sleeping outside Komani Post Office in the Eastern Cape for days, waiting to be paid by the Postbank. Image: GroundUp.

Public Works employees sleep outside post office for a week

Some of Public Works employees have spent R120 of their R810 salary on transport to Komani and yet they remain unpaid.

Public Works employees sleep outside post office for a week

Employees of the Extended Public Works Programme have been sleeping outside Komani Post Office in the Eastern Cape for days, waiting to be paid by the Postbank. Image: GroundUp.

Article originally published on GroundUp By Mkhuseli Sizani

  • Employees of the Extended Public Works Programme from Chris Hani in the Eastern Cape have been sleeping outside the post office in Komani waiting to be paid.
  • Some said they had been there for a week.
  • They are paid through Postbank but their cards no longer work, so they have to get their salary from the post office.
  • Some spend R120 of their R810-a-month salary to get to and from Komani to draw their money.

About 400 Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP) workers from Chris Hani District Municipality have been queuing overnight outside the Komani Post Office waiting to be paid their salaries by Postbank. They say they have been sleeping outside the post office since Wednesday. They keep warm by burning cardboard.

They say electricity outages in Komani, Eskom loadshedding, and poor service by the staff have forced them to sleep outside the post office and wait for days before getting paid.

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The workers are employed by the Department of Public Works, working two days a week for R810 a month. They say their Postbank cards have not been usable at retail shops since October 2022, so they have to come to the post office. Workers from Lady Frere spend between R120 and R180 on taxi fares in order to come and collect their salaries at Komani Post Office.

Thethiwe Mgobozi, from Ntabethemba, said she had been sleeping outside the post office since last week Tuesday.

No pay for Public Works employees

“On Tuesday and Wednesday last week I couldn’t get my salary because the electricity was off. Then on Thursday and Friday the post office had to close because there was a total shutdown by Komani residents.”

“On Monday I came back and I was turned back home because there was no electricity. The queue was also very long and people pushed one another,” she said.

“I borrowed R300 from my relatives just to come and get my salary. Our salary is R810 but we have huge debts because of poor service,” she said.

Nolulama Ngaba, from Lady Frere, said it has been a struggle since the Lady Frere post office closed in 2016.

“We then had to come all the way here to Komani Post Office to receive our salaries … Taxi fare became a big problem for us. A taxi from where I live is R120 return trip. But for other people who live in distant places the taxi fare is R180.”

“In 2020 the Post Office introduced the Postbank cards. But they gave us technical problems. When we used cards at the banks they were swallowed by ATMs. Shops declined them. Then we were all ordered to come to this Post Office,” she said.

Ngaba said on Monday a stampede nearly occurred because of the poor service.

“I arrived here on Monday at about 3:30am but I left with dozens of other workers at 4:30pm without getting our salaries. Every time we come here we are told that from 7am there is no electricity in Komani until 11am. Then we ask the post office staff why there are no generators as a back-up but we don’t get answers.

“When the electricity comes back at 11am the staff will start going back to work at 12:30pm. Then there is a group of youth who arrive late and jump the queue because they bribe the staff.”

“Last night I had to buy two litres of milk for R25 on credit to make porridge for my family. If I don’t get my money today we will sleep on empty stomachs,” she said.

Some of the workers queuing outside the post office said they had been sleeping there for a week

Some sleep outside Postbank

Nokwanda Magabela, from Hewu, said,

“We have been suffering ever since the retail shops stopped accepting our Postbank cards. There is no booking system here. On Monday when the Post Office closed I was in front of the queue, but today, although I arrived here at 12:30am, there were a lot of people in front of me.

“When we ask the police for a place to sleep, because we don’t feel safe sleeping here, they tell us we should sleep at filling stations. I slept at Engen Garage with other women.”

She said she could not go home empty handed to her four children.

EPWP supervisor Ntombentsha Ndzule came with 19 workers from Lady Frere.

“We arrived here on Monday at 6am with my team. But one of the staff members collected IDs of her favourites and that caused chaos. We could not go back home because taxi fare is expensive. We slept at the filling station,” she said.

“Then from 3am I came here to the Post Office and made an open fire with cardboard boxes to warm ourselves. Workers want their money because their families are hungry and they owe loan sharks.”

No comment on Public Works’ situation

Johan Kruger, South African Post Office spokesperson, did not say why the Postbank cards are no longer working nor did he comment on the lack of generators. He confirmed that the post office had closed during protests last week.

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“Unfortunately the issues are compounded by electrical problems, which the post office is working to repair. We would like to apologise for our customers for the inconveniences they have to go through,” he said.

Siphokazi Ncanywa, provincial Department of Public Works spokesperson, said the department was aware of the problem with paying workers. She said the department had approached banks to make the payments but “they were really not interested”.

“Postbank is still cheaper in rates compared to banks. The Postbank is busy trying to sort out the card challenges of not being effective at retail stores. This is as a result of cyber attacks on Postbank systems.”

By Tuesday afternoon the queue had dwindled and Ncanywa said everyone had been paid.