Suspended from a rope‚ Jevis gazes in at the life he dreams of living

12 January 2018 - 09:16 By Dan Meyer
Jevis Melle‚ 22‚ is a rope-assist-technician for Rope Works‚ a firm that specialises in the external maintenance of high-rise buildings.
Jevis Melle‚ 22‚ is a rope-assist-technician for Rope Works‚ a firm that specialises in the external maintenance of high-rise buildings.
Image: Dan Meyer

Jevis Melle is about to go “over the edge”.

Sitting on a paint tin on the 12th floor of 2 Long Street‚ in Cape Town‚ he watches his supervisor clip in harnesses and cables that will support him when he abseils off the building carrying a bucket of paint in the hot January sun.

Melle‚ 22‚ is a rope-assist-technician for Rope Works‚ a firm that specialises in the external maintenance of high-rise buildings. He will dangle from great heights and paint the side of the building today‚ earning approximately R30 an hour.

He moved to South Africa in 2015 from Cameroon after he finished his A-levels‚ hoping to pursue studies in journalism and media communications.

“I wanted to be a journalist‚” he said. “South Africa is known in Africa as the most developed country with the best job opportunities. I left Cameroon and it was the first time I had been on a plane.”

Melle‚ who lives in Goodwood‚ wears paint-spattered orange overalls and a white hard-hat. “I used to be afraid of heights‚” he said. “But when you are faced with adversity and hardship‚ you must learn to overcome your fears.”

“The first time I went ‘over the edge’ I nearly collapsed‚ but you have to be a man and do your job.”

After arriving in South Africa‚ Melle struggled to gain access to academic institutions. Without money for accommodation‚ fees and daily living expenses‚ he was forced to reconsider his options and enter “survival mode.”

“I didn’t want to do this‚” he said‚ pointing to the ropes and harness. “This is life though – you need money and I have a family to support.”

Jevis Melle and colleagues paint a Cape Town office building.
Jevis Melle and colleagues paint a Cape Town office building.
Image: Dan Meyer

Every day‚ Melle finds himself in the unusual position of seeing “from the outside in” – hanging outside office windows‚ he gets a regular glimpse of the life he dreamed of but which seems impossible for him to realise.

“All day‚ we see people inside the offices‚ sitting in nice suits‚ drinking coffee‚” he said. “They look clean in front of their computers. I also want that.

“They ignore people like us. We’re covered in paint and we stink from perspiration. Do you think I want to smell like this? The sweat is a metaphorical reminder of our suffering.”

Melle says he regularly experiences xenophobia and racism‚ and often feels people “don’t see him as a human” when he wears his work gear.

Supervisor Seifu Bakunda‚ 38‚ said most of his team are foreigners. Bakunda himself is from Burundi and previously worked as a security guard.

“I left the security job because I wanted to use my mind more. Sitting around waiting for something to happen doesn’t let you do that‚” he said.

Mzuvuyile Vulagngqele‚ 28‚ a South African‚ regrets that without education he cannot fulfil his dreams of making a difference in society.

“If I had the chances‚ I would do social work‚” he said‚ adding that the work he does on the rope does affords him an “adrenaline rush” at the very least.

For Melle‚ the rejection he has faced has made him pessimistic‚ but as he clips the ropes to his harness and moves towards the ledge‚ he says there is nothing he can do but carry on and try harder the next day.

“I’ve felt finished‚ I’ve felt like giving up‚ but you have to do these things to survive. This is life‚ man.”

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