Home News ’We are treated like stepchildren’ – Cemetery workers in Ritchie

’We are treated like stepchildren’ – Cemetery workers in Ritchie

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Cemetery workers in Ritchie say they have been treated like the ’stepchildren’ of Sol Plaatje Municipality as they were not supplied with the basic tools of trade.

Residents in Rietvale are fed up with having to constantly deal with overflowing sewage that dams up in their back yards and bathrooms. Picture: Soraya Crowie

CEMETERY workers in Ritchie said that they were treated like the “stepchildren” of Sol Plaatje Municipality as they were not supplied with the basic tools of the trade.

They indicated that the money for diesel had run out during the week and equipment could not be transported to the site.

“Graveyard workers have to dig graves manually as the TLB truck does not have fuel to operate. This week the truck was filled with 20 litres of petrol in Kimberley although it only lasts about one week after which we are unable to work any further. How can we cut the grass without petrol?

“We have tried to embark on strike action but then feel sorry for the community when they beg us for assistance. If we do not help them, they are not able to bury their loved ones. We want to work but our hands are tied because we do not have fuel or equipment.”

The workers added that the equipment cannot be stored at the cemetery as the office building was vandalised during protest action and was never fixed.

“There is no roof or doors and no toilets, so we have to relieve ourselves in the veld. One of our workers collapsed twice on Wednesday and a colleague had to rush home to fetch his private vehicle in order to transport him to the clinic. He has been a contract worker for the past 12 years and will retire without a pension. In the event of a life-or-death situation or emergency, there is no transport available at the graveyard.”

They stated that they are not paid overtime, nor provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) or sufficient uniforms.

“We have to reopen graves where the deceased died of Covid-19 and other contagious diseases and yet there are no shower facilities or water to wash with or keep our hands clean before we go home to our families, who are also being placed at risk.”

The cemetery workers added that they were not paid danger allowances, while they encountered poisonous snakes while digging graves.

“Sometimes we don’t see them while we are working so there always needs to be a second person watching. We are also understaffed, where five workers died and two left, while vacant posts are not filled.”

Residents meanwhile placed rocks in the road in Motswedimosa in an attempt to divert overflowing drains and prevent sewage from seeping into their homes.

A Rietvale resident living in Eerste Straat, Mitchell Holtshauzen, stated that he would have to replace sewerage pipes at his own cost to divert overflowing sewage in his house and yard.

“We have to place blankets inside the house to mop up the raw sewage and it is very unhygienic. The problem is exacerbated in our street as we are low lying and everything accumulates in our yard.”

He indicated that all their outside toilets were out of order and overflowed if they were flushed.

“We have to go to another family member’s house to make use of the bathroom. We understand that the pump station was vandalised but surely the municipality should fix it.”

This outside toilet belongs to an elderly woman who is forced to relieve herself at her neighbour’s facilities. Picture: Soraya Crowie

Ritchie residents who are tired of “empty promises” from the municipality have pooled together money to fix potholes.

A community member, Elize Niemann, said residents had generously contributed towards the project.

“We have enough money to purchase almost 100 bags of tar to attend to potholes in Tweede Laan on June 11. We will hire a road scraper and roller.”

She added that all the funds would be audited.

Sol Plaatje Municipality spokesperson Thoko Riet dismissed the allegations of there not being transport or fuel available at Ritchie cemetery as untrue.

“All tools are provided to the workers. Trucks that run empty are refuelled at the council yard, where we have our own diesel and petrol stations. We would then temporarily fill vehicles so they can travel to the council yard to fill up.”

Cemetery workers at Motswedimosa in Ritchie are at their wits’ end as they are expected to dig graves and maintain the cemetery without proper equipment or diesel to run the equipment. Picture: Soraya Crowie

She added that there were at least three workers to assist in digging a grave.

“A dedicated employee digs graves with the TLB machine unless a grave needs to be dug by hand, where three workers assist. Neither the municipality nor the manager were informed about any employee that fainted. Our employees’ health is always our priority and we would never put them at risk by not reporting the incident.

“Workers are provided with proper PPE and full workwear. It is unfortunate that some employees decided to sell their workwear. Due to budgetary constraints, we have unfortunately not been able to pay overtime.”

Riet explained that the municipality was looking to renovate the office building that was destroyed during protest action.

She stated that the Department of Roads and Public Works fixed potholes in Ritchie last month but were unable to finish due to a lack of budget.

“We will continue in July when the new budget comes into effect.”

Riet said the theft of cables at the pump station resulted in the pump station being constantly out of order.

“The contractor is on site with regards to the maintenance of the sewer.”

She added that they were in the process of filling vacancies at all cemeteries.

Cemetery workers in Ritchie said a colleague collapsed on site and had to be taken by private transport for medical assistance. Picture: Supplied
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