They guide us through traffic. Now their jobs are caught in a contract jam
Joburg's 'team in green' faces a bleak future. We meet the real people behind the uniforms
Christine Mokwele, 38, became a foot patrol pointsman 13 years ago when Traffic Freeflow and OUTsurance first sent their “team in green” to ease congestion on the streets. With no tertiary education, she began working as a volunteer in Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg. A year later, she had her motorbike licence and was sent to problem corners all over the city.
She and her colleagues have been a welcome sight whenever there is a traffic snarl-up.
But now their future is uncertain after a decision by the City of Joburg to not renew the contract with Traffic Freeflow (Pty) Ltd, the service providers for the OUTsurance pointsmen when it expired on August 31.
The contract in Tshwane is not affected.
The subsequent public outcry led to a six-month reprieve, subject to the finalisation of the city’s procurement process for the issuing of a final contract following a competitive tender process.
“This means that‚ in due course‚ a new tender would be awarded to the best suitable PPP (public-private partnership) service provider to assist the JMPD (metro police) in traffic management,” mayor Herman Mashaba said in a statement.
“The JMPD will continue to conduct traffic management duties as part of its legislative mandate and ensure that Joburg roads are easy and safe to travel on.”
But that brings little comfort for the 186 men and woman who work to keep our traffic flowing freely.
“We will be jobless after serving the community for 13 years. All of us are wondering what’s going to happen,” Mokwele said.
“We like assisting the community. Most of the motorists really appreciate us. Some have even stopped us after reading in the newspaper [that the contract was renewed for six months] saying: ‘Guys we are so happy to see you again.’”
Mokwele’s partner on wheels, Errol Mushwani, 34, is also a breadwinner and has been working for the company for more than 10 years.
“We were sad when the city published [that the contract would be terminated] without telling us. It was hell on the road too; motorists were cross and let us know how frustrated they were. They need us.
“When I came here I had nothing. Now I’m a rider,” said Mushwani, proudly showing off his biker jacket.
Mushwani and Mokwele said they didn’t want to think about what might happen if their contract expired.
“It’s not easy; we are dying to know if we need to start looking for a job. We don’t want to find out a week before again that we have no job. At least let us know before Christmas,” Mushwani said.
Mokwele added she wanted the City to “consider us; we don’t need anything from them, just permission to keep working. Just tell us if we are safe or not because if we hear around Christmas that we can no longer provide for our families it will break us”.
MMC for public safety Michael Sun said the contract termination should never have been a surprise, as it was a fixed-term contract that had the agreed upon the termination date of August 31.
“There was always a date when the contract would end, and their sponsors should be well aware.”
Traffic Freeflow CEO Bheki Zondo said the company just wanted job security for its members.
Zondo began his career as a pointsman on foot, working two hours in the morning and two in the evening. He used the money he earned to get his LLB degree from Wits and to study management at Henley Business School. He went on to become CEO of the company that gave him his first job.
“Without the salary I got here, I would never have gotten my degree.”
Mashaba went on record on August 29 during an interview with KayaFM’s David O’Sullivan saying the contract termination was a surprise to him and he had first heard about in on Twitter.
Spokesperson Luyanda Mfeka said: “The city has a multitude of contracts which are run and managed by the administration, not political office. It simply isn’t possible for the executive mayor to manage those contractual arrangements. However, as soon as the matter was brought to the mayor’s attention ... the matter was resolved.”
According to Sun, the tender should be published before the end of the year.
Sun said despite the fact that the city did not contribute to the cost of training the pointsmen or their salaries, a tender process was still necessary because “the PPP involves the city granting a private service provider to render the traffic enhancement services, supply chain and procurement processes need to be followed, hence the tendering process”.
When asked why the city would not consider hiring the pointsmen instead of training new people for the job, Sun said: “It is necessary as part of the city’s plan to improve traffic management to recruit more traffic wardens.”
He said he was not aware of any retrenchment of pointsmen in the city.