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‘Ford, you robbed my Pa’

In a small house in the old mission town of Bethelsdorp near Port Elizabeth, lives a man who has worked for the Ford Motor Company for nearly 30 years. His name is Mr Schutte.

But now Mr Schutte’s days at Ford are coming to an end. At the end of January, Ford said that they were closing most of their factories in Port Elizabeth. They are going to join another motor company in Pretoria.

Ford did not ask Mr Schutte what he thought about all this. Even after 30 years, they do not think his advice is important. And they feel the same way about their other two thousand workers. Business is business – and the workers don’t count that much.

Learn and Teach went to visit Mr Schutte. He told us about his years at Ford and he spoke about the future.

While he spoke, small children came into the room and played. They did not look unhappy. But when their father lit his pipe and started to speak, his voice was filled with sadness. He is old enough to understand.

“Why did I come to Ford?”, asks Mr Schutte. “Well, I was born in Hankie. But when we couldn’t plant there anymore, I came to the city to find work. I first came to Korsten and I stayed there for 13 years. Then I moved to Bethelsdorp and got a job at Ford. The year was 1956.

“In the beginning I sandpapered cars. That was my job for six years and a few months. And then I learned all the other jobs – like spray-painting, glazing and others. Then they made me a supervisor until old age came. Then they put me into maintenance. I’ve been in maintenance for four years now.

I must say, in the beginning Ford was a lekker place to work for. Only Ford and General Motors paid their workers over three pounds a week. Ford paid the best in the Eastern Cape.

We workers worked hard and fought hard for these wages. We have fought together in our union since 1946. The union has been very valuable to us.

The pay was good but people still did not stay long at Ford. They used Ford like a school. They came and learned. And then they went to find work somewhere else. The work at Ford was hard – harder than anywhere else in the Eastern Cape.

In those days they didn’t have these big machines like they have today. In the old days we had to do everything with our hands. Some people only stayed for one day. I stayed for so long and then I was too old to leave.

Now Ford say they are closing over here. All they say is: “Die karre verkoop sleg, die karre verkoop sleg.” They don’t tell us really why. The whole Eastern Cape will suffer now. Millions if people are already out of work.

The Americans should have thought about this problem. They make good, strong cars and they are not fools. Ford made money here. South Africa was their goldmine. Now they are saying that they must close up. They are keeping the real reason under a dark blanket.

What’s going to happen to the children. How can they go to school when their parents have no work. Right now my two daughters are nursing at Livingstone Hospital. They are there on Ford bursaries. But these bursaries are not presents. They are loans. If I have no work, how can I pay back any loan?

Our children will remember that Ford treated us badly. They will say “Look at Ford. Our pa worked for Ford until he was old — and then look how they treated him” And they will say: “Ford, you robbed my pa! You will not rob me as well.”


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