Thomas speaks to Abomantshingelani


Every morning I pass the man who looks after the building where I work. But most mornings I am still sleeping when I get to work. So I just say, “Sawubona Baba,” as I fall into the lift.

He is still there when I leave in the evenings. But then I am always late for my taxi. So all I say is, “Sala kahle, Baba” when I run out. Then one day I thought to myself, “I see our ‘umantshingelani’ every day but I do not know him.”


So I went down at lunch time to speak to him. When the watchman saw I wanted to talk, he went to fetch his friend — the man who looks after the building at night. They said to me, “We want to talk. Everyone walks past us but they don’t see us — even you, either you are running or you are fast asleep on your feet. No-one is interested in ‘abomantshingelani’. But we keep your building safe for you.”


Then the watchman who works during the day started to talk. “I start work everyday at six in the morning and I go home at six at night. It is a very long day — it is very boring watching people walk in and out.”


I think to myself, “This sounds just like my kind of job — you can sit and sleep all day and no-one will know.” “But,” says the watchman, “I cannot sleep. I sit on this small hard seat. It is so uncomfortable that I have to get up and walk around every ten minutes.”


Just then a big, tall man walks into the building. He has a bad look on his face. He comes straight to us. He is looking for a firm. The watchman says it is on the tenth floor — he knows everyone.


As the man went into the lift, I saw that he had a gun under his jacket. I look at the watchman. All he has is a stick. “This is not an easy job,” I said to myself. “What could the watchman do if this man tried to make trouble — a gun against a stick.”


I asked the watchman. “There is nothing I can do.” he said. “This job is very dangerous. But we are not trained. If that man made trouble, all I could say is, ‘Yes baas, no baas, anything you want, baas.’


“But the worst thing about our job is the hours we work. I work from six to six everyday, Monday to Saturday. Saturday is better. At lunchtime, I lock the door and sleep.” The watchman points to the corner where he sleeps on the floor.


“But it is worse for me” says the night watchman. I work every night of the week. So I live in this building, on the roof. I only get one week-end every two months. And I only get off two weeks a year. Is that enough time to spend with your family? No, it isn’t.


“But we are lucky’ says the night- watchman. “I have a friend who works at the gate of a factory. He checks everyone who comes in and out. He doesn’t have any place to sit, even when it is cold and raining. He can’t even go to the toilet because people are coming and going all the time.”


Then the day watchman starts to talk again. “You see my uniform. The boss thinks I look very smart — but I had to pay for it myself. The boss says he will give me the money when I leave. He also says that I must pay to keep it clean.


“And when I go home to the township at night, do you think the siyanyova’s think I look smart. No, they think I look like a policeman. So now I must change before I leave work and hide my uniform in a packet.”


These watchmen really suffer, I tell myself. Where is a union to help them — maybe it is difficult to organise watchmen. Or maybe watchmen do not want to join unions. Let the unions speak for themselves. Unions, please do something about these workers.


Tot siens. Heyta daar.


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