By Valencia Talane
Corruption Watch recently spent time chatting with Simphiwe Hlafa, a coordinator in the Gauteng Community Work Programme (CWP) run by lead agent Mvula Trust, an NGO.
He said at the time of our interview, beneficiaries had still not been paid for the previous month’s work, with many taking their anger out on him. Some workers have even given up on the project because working without pay seems futile. Watch Hlafa talking about this here.
Hlafa is a 36-year-old father of three who lives with his wife in a modest flat in Rosettenville, in the south of Johannesburg. He is one of over 1 500 people involved in the CWP in that part of the city, and his main task is to recruit and coordinate workers from his community.
The programme, a multibillion-rand government drive to provide part-time jobs to people in struggling communities, is up for a major review six years after it was first launched.
The problems spread far wider than Mvula Trust: there are other players in the programme too, who enter the scene as provincial- and local-implementing agents; and it’s believed there are complications with these as well.
Amid this dysfunctional web, it’s the workers depending on these agents for a livelihood who are affected the most.
“The Mvula Trust saga started with a flawed tender process,” says Corruption Watch director David Lewis.
“This goes to show that rules in tender processes are not just trivial and bureaucratic, they are there to ensure competency and fairness. Not only do the flaws reveal unfairness, but they also show that the organisation subcontracted by Mvula Trust to carry out the work, Ubuntu Sima, was not subjected to a due diligence. So it’s not surprising these problems have arisen.”
Read more about the CWP, Mvula Trust, the problems and the probe here.
While Hlafa gets a monthly salary of R1 900, his team of between 50 and 60 workers earn R536 each for two weeks’ work every month. All of these people, he says, are largely dependent on this stipend. Although the money is not enough to carry their families through the month, it pays for the basics.
But over the last year or so late or non-payments have caused problems among Hlafa’s group and raised trust issues between himself and his team. Hlafa says this leads to anxiety among employees and instead of an explanation from the payer, Mvula Trust, they are met with silence. Watch Hlafa expressing his frustration here.
CWP participants build and maintain roads and municipal parks, as well as run gardening projects for day-care centres and shelters for the aged, orphaned and homeless.
Taking its toll
Hlafa came to Johannesburg from the Eastern Cape in 1996 in search of a better life, and started work in the private security industry. After years working in this sector, he was drawn to the CWP in 2010. His wife works as an administrator at a private medical practice in Johannesburg, while their children are raised by his family in the Eastern Cape.
After he approached an official from the CWP’s local implementing agency in his area, Hlafa decided to mobilise people who he thought could do the work. “In 2011, I told the man that when their next budget review came along, he should consider adding a group of workers from my ward,” he explains. “Later that year he came to me and said they could add my group to the programme.”
He had experience as a community leader, and so Hlafa was enlisted as a coordinator.
The group is made up mostly of women, many of whom are young but lack the skills needed in the job market. Besides the wages from the programme, their only other income is from social grants.
But even with income from two sources, says Hlafa, their day-to-day financial needs are hard to meet. Some people go for three to four months without being paid and there is never a good explanation from Mvula for this.
“As I’m talking to you now, we still haven’t been paid for last month’s work,” says Hlafa. “When you follow up [with Mvula] on why people are not paid, you’re told a whole lot of stories, like ‘The person probably changed their account or probably this person has a problem with the account,’ even though the participant has been with the programme for three years and has been using the same account without any problems.” Watch Hlafa talking about this here.
Hlafa told Corruption Watch the reason he follows up with Mvula Trust directly and not the local implementing agency is because the latter has been unhelpful in the past.
Battling to get through
Although he acknowledges that the problems existed before Mvula took over as the implementing agent for CWP, Hlafa says they have become worse since then. Before Mvula, he explains, there was at least some communication. “We would get calls to say, ‘This is the problem, you’re not going to receive your wages in time.’ Now, there’s never any communication.”
At a meeting he attended in early April, reps from the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), under which the CWP falls, and Mvula acknowledged the inconvenience. Hlafa says he personally raised the question of salaries, pointing out that participants were hoping to get their money before the Easter weekend.
“On that day, we got a commitment from Mvula that [it] would work on the problem, and that it would not occur again, but now a month later we’re sitting with the same problem.”
When Corruption Watch contacted Mvula Trust for comment, acting CEO Silas Mbedzi referred our enquiry to Cogta.
With Mvula’s empty promises, says Hlafa, it is up to coordinators like himself to take bad news back to participants. “When they come to you they just don’t understand,” he explains. “They just want their money, and they come to you and say, ‘Look, I haven’t paid the crèche for my child, or I haven’t paid school fees for my kids.’”
Many participants have also given up, and stay at home rather than show up for work, because they don’t see the point. “They won’t point the finger at the person that they don’t know; they’ll come to you and say that you are the one.”
Hlafa says he knows that many participants get very angry, but fortunately his own safety has never been threatened. “Maybe it’s because we also know each other outside of the CWP; we are activists in our own community.”
A colleague arrived at a recent meeting for coordinators in tears, saying that workers from her area had threatened to leave their own homes and move in with her, because they had gone for too long without getting paid, Hlafa told Corruption Watch.
Now for the solutions
Because they cannot bring complaints alone to the table, Hlafa says he and other coordinators decided to propose solutions to Cogta at the last few meetings held to discuss non-payments. “Our issues are not necessarily centred [on] payments alone; there is a lot of things, such as training that is supposed to be done but isn’t.”
Separate from the salaries budget, there’s a training budget that Hlafa claims has not been spent on a single participant in his area. “It’s in black and white in the implementation manual of CWP.”
He says each participant is due for skills training of some kind because they only work two weeks a month; the rest could be used for training, as the manual stipulates. “It means that the government money that [had] been allocated for us to be skilled by the time we exit the project, never got used. They [Mvula] kept it to themselves.” Watch Hlafa explain this here.