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The ‘bucket boys’ of Alexandra Township


mali yalaba bantu igcwele amabhakede Awu! yaze yaninzi imali! These people’s money fills buckets Awu! What a lot of money! (The bucket boys’ song)

When the people of Alexandra Township come home from work, they know they are home. They can tell by the smell in the air.

The smell is both sweet and sour. The smell tells the people their supper is cooking. And the smell tells them the bucket boys are at work again.

In Alexandra Township people still use buckets in their toilets. Two trucks collect the buckets in the evenings. Each truck carries 15 men. The men run in and out of the toilets. They take out the fuII buckets and leave empty ones. The people call these men ‘Abantu bamabhakede’ or the ‘bucket boys’.

The people of Alexandra Township hate the buckets. They hate the smell and the mess. But what about the bucket boys? How do they feel? Learn and Teach spoke to some of them:

Wanda Mdudi is 22 years old. He left school after he finished standard five. He went to work in Port Elizabeth. But he did not like Port Elizabeth. So he came to Johannesburg to find work.

In Johannesburg, Wanda could not find a job. He looked everywhere. He got worried. His parents were not working. And his younger brothers and sisters were still at school. His family needed money in the Transkei. Wanda was ready for any job.

Then Wanda got a job as a bucket boy. He hated the job. He felt ashamed of the job. He did not tell his parents about his job for a long time. He wanted a better job. But four years have passed. And Wanda is still a bucket boy.

Stanford Dangalazana is also a bucket boy. He is 31 years old. He is married and has one child. His mother is still alive at home.

When Stanford came to Johannesburg, he also couldn’t find a job. He became a bucket boy. His wife sometimes visits him. She always complains about his job. Stanford also prays for a better job. But ten years have passed. And Stanford is still a bucket boy.

“We start work at 5 o’clock in the afternoon,” says Stanford. “Before work, we get dressed in the hostel. We all live in the Alexandra Men’s Hostel. We put on our overalls, boots and gloves. Then we rush to work. If we are late, they sometimes send us back to sleep. And then they take money from our wages.

“We don’t empty all the buckets every night. We only empty the buckets in one part of the township each night. We drive into the part of the township where we are working. We drive around and throw the clean buckets off the truck.

“Then the truck goes back to the place where we started. We get off the truck and fetch the buckets from the toilets. The buckets are always full. We use handles to pick up the buckets. We take the buckets outside. We then put clean buckets into the toilets.

‘The truck comes back for the third time. The truck drives slowly past. We empty the buckets into one part of the truck. And we put the dirty, empty buckets into another part of the truck.

“Then we drive back to the ‘tip hole’. We empty all the shit in the truck into the ‘tip hole’. Other men then clean the buckets. The truck then takes us back to the hostel at about 10 o’clock.

The bucket boys run all the time. They shout orders at each other and they sing at the same time. They look happy in their work.

“Many people think we are happy because we sing, “says Joseph, another bucket boy. “But we are not happy. I will never let my son come near a job like this. I want him to have a better life.

“Our job is not a healthy job. If you have a wound or a cut, the wound or cut gets worse at work. Some of us get boils and ‘isifesane’ on our hands. Sometimes we fall because we run at night.

“When we fall, they take us to the clinic. But when we get sick away from work, then we must go to our own doctor. And we must pay. We must also take a doctor’s certificate when we go back to work.

“Most of us come from Umzimkhulu in the Transkei. We come from a clan called ‘Amabhaca’. So many people call our work the work of the Bhaca’s. In our language we call our work ‘umsebenzi othsambile’ – this means the ‘soft work’.”

“So you can see, we are from the Transkei. We are migrant workers. We migrant workers can’t change jobs very easily. We get stuck in one job.

“Other tribes hate this job. They say this job is dirty. When we come back from work, our overalls smell very bad. People shout at us. They call us names. They insult us. We always shout back, “This shit is your shit, not ours”. Sometimes we get so angry we empty our buckets over people who laugh at us.

“I don’t understand why people don’t treat us kindly. The whole place would stink with­ out us. We suffer in our work. We must eat in the daytime. At night we can’t eat because the smell stays with us.

“We do not work on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. We have a rest. We clean our own overalls. We sometimes play football. We do try to do something. Otherwise we will get bored in the hostel.

We go home for one month every year. We go to see the people who love us. And we leave all the shit behind us!


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