Andile Ramaphosa, business partner launch project to help those left jobless by lockdown
They're a cohort of 50,000 workers who want to move from being coronavirus victims to coronavirus fighters.
Waste-pickers, cleaners, and ride-hailing service drivers in Johannesburg, whose incomes have dried up during the nationwide lockdown, are being trained in new ways of making a living so they can get back to work.
The project is the brainchild of businessmen Brad Fisher and Andile Ramaphosa, son of President Cyril Ramaphosa, who own SDI (Supplier Development Initiatives), a company that introduces micro-suppliers to larger companies.
My brother died so I look after his six children, then I have three of my own children and my wife to worry about.
With their new programme, SDI Force, they are gathering donations for personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing to enable the micro-suppliers to do their bit to combat the virus and earn a living in the process.
Already involved are cleaning company Sweepsouth, ride-hailing service Bolt, waste recycling company Wastepreneurs, brand activators Tradeways, logistics company Loadit, survey and data capturing company Aweh and appliance service company Easyfix, which together represent about 50,000 workers in Johannesburg. The plan is to roll out the system in other cities.
Said Fisher: "The idea is to repurpose these people so they can work. An example is the Bolt drivers: one of the complaints from essential workers like lab technicians and nurses is that they have trouble getting to work because of restrictions on public transport. Each Bolt car has now been fitted with screens so passengers can travel without worrying about catching the virus. The drivers also know how to sanitise cars between travels, so they are now able to work.
"And the 'Sweep Stars', the ladies who work at Sweepsouth who usually clean homes, will be trained to sanitise offices" in the face of domestic contracts drying up.
Ronald Sibeko works at Loadit, which connects drivers who own trucks with those needing their services. The lockdown almost wiped out his income.
"I have a big family to look out for. My brother died so I look after his six children, then I have three of my own children and my wife to worry about. So now, with no work, I was facing big trouble," said Sibeko.
Work is slow, but after he received training from SDI Force in how to safely deliver food, he helps deliver tons of food parcels.
"Many people I used to work with are out of jobs, people come crying to me because they have no food - and they can work. I try help them with what I've got, but it's not enough."
Waste-picker Godfrey Phakedi, a manager at the Wastepreneurs co-operative, said they plan to retrain their workers to clean taxi ranks and other public spaces.
"They are used to carrying 100kg on their backs. A backpack with industrial spray will be light work. More than that, they are hardworking, they get up early and work late, they are reliable and they are willing to do the work. This is how we can use our resources, let these people work," he said.
Fisher said that while the informal workers are retraining, their immediate need is for food. R1.6m in donations has been spent on food parcels for the waste-pickers and other destitute families.
Zuzu Mbatha and his Momba Foundation, which works with waste-pickers organised by Wastepreneurs, has been distributing the parcels to the 6,000 informal recyclers.
"When we began giving food parcels to the waste-pickers, we did so with the help of nurses provided by the city. Each person was screened for the virus. Some did not even know the country was in lockdown - never mind facing coronavirus. With the money donated we have been able to give over 6,800 food parcels in three weeks. That's good work, but we need to get people working again."
Sweepsouth CEO Aisha Pandor said the 3,000 cleaners on the company's books - many of whom are single mothers - are receiving between R150 and R400 a week from a fund the company established to support them, but this is not nearly enough.
"We've had amazing support from customers who have contributed to the fund, and around 40% of the customers are still paying cleaners despite them not being at work. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation have also donated R6m for the fund," she said.
"But donations [of PPE] would allow these women to get back to work with no risk of spreading or catching the virus."