South African Contractors Speak Out On EPWP Programme

Cape Town - When Cynthia Lombo started as a contractor with the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) Working for Water, it was a daily battle trying to get her workers to work because she had no vehicle of her own, but now four years later she is the proud owner of two bakkies and a trailer.

"Working for Water has changed our lives," says Lombo, who is one of 27 contractors which each employ 10 people to clear various species of alien vegetation from the slopes of the city's Table Mountain.

The Working for Water programme which aims to eradicate the 346 species of alien vegetation found throughout the country, has been running since 1995 when it was first launched as part of the government's Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP).

Every year the programme employs on average 30 000 people, with the majority of them from poor communities.

But when Lombo joined the Working for Water programme as a contractor, she was at the mercy of an unreliable driver who often never turned up when he was needed.

"For me it was a real problem, some of my workers left because they can't work today and not tomorrow," said Lombo.

But she kept at it and in 2007, after nine months she was able to buy her own bakkie. A year later she added a trailer.

She then began saving money using the financial management skills and book keeping service provided by the programme and in 2008 she was able to buy her second bakkie, a Nissan Hardbody.

The EPWP is one of government's programmes that covers all spheres of government and state-owned enterprises that aim to draw significant numbers of the unemployed into productive work, accompanied by training, so that they increase their capacity to earn.

Government planned to create 4.5 million work opportunities or the equivalent of 2 million full time jobs, between 2009 and 2014.

While the first phase achieved a target of 1 million work opportunities a year ahead of schedule, the government aimed to scale up the programme in the second phase to contribute significantly to halving unemployment by 2014.

Another contractor who has benefited from the programme is Olwetu Dalasile of Esnako Contractors in the Eastern Cape.

Dalasile was able to get business training which has helped her to price a tender and draw up cashflow projections, after taking part in the Department of Public Works' Vuk'uphile Contractor Learnership Programme in 2005.

Dalasile said one of the highlights for her after graduating from the programme, was the chance to make a difference in local communities where four in five households depended on social grants.

"When you get there and tell them you've been appointed to build a school under this programme their faces light up because they say 'the poverty is gone'," said Dalasile.

She said officials on the programme also helped her to become tax compliant and to register with the Construction Industry Development Board.

Said Dalasile: "I think the government has invested a lot in us young black contractors, especially in the Eastern Cape, because it has fulfilled our dreams and changed our lives."

Ignatius Arroyo, the Department of Public Works' chief director of infrastructure said in the next few months the Construction Seta would start to put 200 contractors through learnerships. - BuaNews