Opinion: My life as a security guard

Oppressors gain at expense of the oppressed
Mashumi ‘Lindela’ Figlan
2010-11-04, Issue 503

Faced by high unemployment South Africans are ‘queuing up to be exploited’, writes Mashumi ‘Lindela’ Figlan. But there’s no reason why ‘each and every person cannot have their dignity.’

Maybe it is good to remind the people that where there is capitalism, the capitalists exploit the workers more than anything you can think of. These days with unemployment being so high the people are queuing up to be exploited. But we must remember that this is not a natural system. There is no reason why each and every person cannot have their dignity.

I have been working as a security guard for many years now. I used to think that the security industry is such a good industry because we always see the guards always smiling. Later I noticed that somebody told them to be always smiling. There is a real need for the government officials to do something about the security industry. One of our leaders said that the government is supposed to sort out the problem facing the security guards. The government should make sure that the industry must be regulated under the government and then they must make sure that that regulation is in the interests of the workers. Of course when ever regulation of an industry is proposed all the petty capitalists and also the venture capitalists complain because they are afraid to lose much by moneys and so in the end no one decides to support the government. Even the government gazette allows the security companies to exploit the security guards. This is how the system works. The people elect a government and instead of obeying the people the government listens to the capitalists. This is why in many countries the people are organising themselves to be able to put more pressure on the government that the capitalists.

It is bad to be a security guard because each and everyone learns how to jump using a guard. We are working with a very low remuneration. Nightshift and dayshift we always here waiting for somebody and we don’t even know when he is coming or what kind of a gun is he going to come with. We are poor people and most of us are risking our lives every day to guard the property and lives of rich people. Most of the places where we are working there is no shelter (guard house) Where I’m writing this article now I’m sitting in the sun. It’s okay but when it’s windy and raining I am sitting in the same place. When I get sick they don’t contribute even one cent. I’m the one responsible. In some sites there is even an Occurrence Book and when you read what is in that book it looks like somebody can come and kill me and no-one will know anything about me.

If we as security guards are on stake for an increase we’ll notice that the increase is less than R1.00 an hour. Even if we are asking our ministers to intervene they say we must go back to school. But is working as a security supposed to be a kind of punishment for a lack of education or is it supposed to be a job? Anyway, who said that all the security guards are not educated? Who said that those of us that couldn’t finish school or who couldn’t study after school are responsible for that? There is such a thing in this country as a history of oppression that made some people to be very poor. Abahlali baseMjondolo has always taught that the rich and the poor were made as they are by the very same system. Sometimes if you are complaining about something you hear those who are always repressing the guards saying ‘It’s not me who said you must not go to school’. One thing I think of a lot is that we must talk about life and about education because a human being is not a human being because of education. Educated or not, a human being is always a human being. When we are told to vote for these same people they don’t ask for our level of education before we cast our votes. On election day we suddenly all count the same. The next day it is back to normal and we, as the poor, we count for nothing.

If you don’t have political connections then you need education to get a good job. Some people become desperate. That is why people sometimes associate themselves with some university whereas they’ve not been there. So sometimes you see a university saying that so and so never registered with them. If we need education to be able to do good work then why is there not free education for everyone? Why does the government not invest in the people? Imagine how many people could have learnt a trade or a skill for the cost of one football stadium. I am failing to understand why, if education is so important, people are left uneducated.

There are good clients and also bad clients. If a client is good on securities’ side, that particular client is not good on the side of employees. If a security guard has got a good relationship with the client, make no mistake that particular guard won’t last on that particular site. The reason is that maybe a client will ask you how much are you getting paid, then that is a threat to our company. If the client is on the company’s side and the company thinks that you are a troublemaker then comes the client with a lot of stories that have been created just to get rid of you.

There is a style which mostly all the companies are adopting. On each and every site there is a guard who is a company spy. Those people are being paid by the companies to spy on other workers. If you are thinking about trying to organise the bosses will know about it the same day as you have your first meeting.

All the conformed companies are the same with bad management style where if the company has been established by a white man, also all the management is white. If the company has been established by a black man the whole management is also black. It’s the same with coloureds, Indians etc. But in some cases you see a black man owning a company and you think that company belongs to him but then you find that no there is someone else and he is doing that job for him (fronting).

The security guards are not treated the same according to their race or let me put it this way; the blacks are not treated the same way. There are those who are treated better because of the colour of their skin. But mostly those of my blood and soul come the last. One of the best known comrades in Abahlali baseMjondolo was fired from his security job by white bosses after they saw that he was dropped off for his shift by a white woman.

The security guards sometimes find that the companies we work for suggest which union they need all the guards to join. That is against our constitution. Each and everyone is allowed by our constitution to join the union of his or her choice without being threatened by the employer. But in reality there are many companies that just tell the workers which union to join.

Freely speaking there are good companies and also good unions but the system of exploitation is still their tradition. If you were born to be Izizi Ijama then what so ever you are doing it will be in favour of your belief as Usijadu. Under this system the only way for us to make some reforms in the companies is by building the strength of the unions. But even the good unions are part of the system. The unions really need to change. The unions must make sure that the people who are supposed to deal with the people’s problems must be those who are willing to help the people. They must be the slaves of the people and revolutionaries, real revolutionaries, and those that just talks revolution on TV. They must be somebody who takes the people’s feelings as theirs.

The reason why I say this is because one day I visited one of the unions which thousands of my colleagues need to join. This is a very well recognised security union. I met a guy who was really willing to help but due to protocol he decided to send me to another lady. I greeted her but she decided not to respond. As an African it is not good to talk first with somebody when you don’t know if you are welcomed or not. I thought let me greet her again. She said ‘Are you here to greet me or for your problem?’ And I decided to tell her our problem. But then I decided to go because before I could finish our story she acted like she knew about our problem more than me. As a poor person you expect to meet people all the time who are treating the poor and the workers like criminals. In fact you meet people all the time who treat us worse than criminals but even like, if I can say, like animals. The SPCA is there to make sure that the animals are treated like human beings and not as animals anymore like before. For us it is only our organisations that can protect us and ensure that we are treated as human beings and not as animals. You don’t expect to meet people who are treating workers like they are stupid in a union office.

Most of the unions are so terrible. I don’t want to say a lot but only they become fat cats by taking our monies from our accounts for nothing. Unions have become a kind of business. They have become a joint venture with the bosses and not a tool in the hands of the workers. We are being fired for nothing if we try to stand up for our rights but most unions are not doing their job. Some unions get just as scared as the bosses if they see that the workers are trying to organise themselves on the site. Sometimes you notice that it seems as if you joined a union only to make it easy for the company to get rid of you. It is much bad when the people get fired at the direction of the union and later the company noticed that it was a mistake to fire you and ask you to come back.

In some cases as a guard, if you approach the CCMA[1] your problems are treated with good care. But in some companies your boss just tells you straight that ‘go to CCMA and my connection is there, you won’t get anything’. You don’t know how relevant that statement is until you get to the CCMA. But once you can tell the person that you are going to put him in a bind he can run away. That is why sometimes some people they don’t even worry themselves to visit the CCMA. There is corruption and collusion with the bosses there too.

So now how can the government fully support and make sure that the security guards, farm workers and also the domestic workers really feel part and parcel of our democracy? They could regulate all these industries in the interests of the workers and they could enforce those regulations. They could give us free legal support. Maybe all law students should do a year of community service. They could give us education, adult education. But mostly our government is just good at talking to the people while they make all their deals with the bosses and the land owners. They promise a lot like ‘together we can do more’. Together we can do more what? They never answer this question in detail. We are just expected to be quiet and to keep on voting. Well the people have decided not be just be quiet and keep on voting. People are rebelling everywhere. People are marching, burning tires, blocking roads and going to court everywhere. People are forming organisations everywhere.

To all the guards let us be united and form a working body for the security by the security. This body can be organised but not professionalised on each site. There we can discuss all the problems that are facing us and that discussion will start from us and the decision that we take their will be by us and for us. From that body we can our problems to the unions and from the union to the CCMA. But that working body will be there all the time. We will not hand our problems over the unions. We will organise outside of the unions to control the unions from the ground. Corrupt union leaders will be no more and all the workers will be respected by our employers and the clients.

BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS

* Thanks to Jama, Stadu and Zizi.
* Lindela ‘Mashumi’ Figlan is the former chairperson of the Kennedy Road Development Committee and served two terms as deputy president of Abahlali baseMjondolo. He has been subject to constant public death threats since the attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo in the Kennedy Road settlement in September 2009. He now lives in the Cato Crest shack settlement and works as a security guard in Claremont.

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