“I’m 100% glad to be back at work – but I am also 50% scared I am going to die of the coronavirus, and 50% scared I am going to go broke if I don’t work.”
These were the words of Cross Chikanzi, a construction supervisor on a road rehabilitation project that resumed in Cape Town after the lifting of the Level 5 lockdown.
Dwarfed by the massive tyres of the construction machinery that have started trundling along with the gravel extension next to the N7 at Dunoon again, Chikanzi said: “I am very excited to get back onto the site.”
Project manager Willem Olivier feels the same way, saying the coronavirus furlough had been a nightmare.
They had to watch money being frittered away on equipment not used, site offices that were empty, and salaries for no work done. They were pleased to be back at work, rehabilitating a portion of the major Cape to Namibia through-route.
He said the coronavirus shut down just hit them “out of nowhere”.
“It was a time of desperation,” said Olivier, walking around the site with renewed vigour.
“This came just in time,” he said, of the drop to Level 4 restrictions which permits some work, with reduced staff numbers and heightened safety precautions.
He said they just scraped through the end of April in terms of paying all their bills and their staff salaries.
Under level four regulations, construction and related services are permitted, including public works, roads and bridge projects.
But work is not the same as it was before.
A table near where staff park their vehicles contains a temperature scanner, and anybody who enters the site has the scanner pointed at their forehead, and their temperature is noted.
“Ah, you have your own pen,” noted one of the site staffers, who was about to get a new and unused pen out of a box for the visitor sign in.
Olivier said the hardest part of coming back was getting all of the coronavirus screening protocols in place, making sure of personal protective equipment and masks for everybody, and that everybody knew what was expected in terms of limiting the spread of the virus.
The unions had been very helpful in preparing them to get back to work.
They also figured out a system of staggering shifts, so that there would not be too many people on site at once, and so that workers would not have to be exposed to crowded transport.
For construction supervisor Clive Langtrey, returning to work this week is bittersweet.
Although he has the sprightly well-toned body of a construction worker, he is over 60, and so is regarded as being at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus than his younger counterparts.
He also has to think about his wife and child at home in Thornton, much further down the highway towards Goodwood.
Western Cape transport MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela popped in to see how work was progressing, and whether the contractors and staffers were abiding by the coronavirus work rules.
“Everybody was willing to work,” said Madikizela.
He acknowledged that there was a debate over whether people should actually be returning to work, given the increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases.
“I think it is a forced dichotomy because you need the economy to fund the health[care].
“I am very happy with what I saw today,” said Madikizela, adding that there was enough space on-site for everybody to work a distance away from each other.