Making bricks for a living

Siphesihle Matyila
Phumela Yibhana makes bricks to earn a “few bucks, enough to buy toiletries”. Photo by Siphesihle Matyila.

A group of young men from Ndevana location near King William’s Town have found a way to put food on their families’ tables: making bricks.

It takes determination and patience to make proper bricks, say the group, some of whom have been selling bricks to customers in Ndevana, Zwelitsha, King William’s Town and East London for the past eight years. When GroundUp visited the site on 15 September, six men were gathered around the very hot kiln. The operation is situated next to a river, making it easy for the brickmakers to get the water that is part of the process.

They said they use ashes (solid remains of a fire) commonly known as Umlotha, mix this with water, remove fine little stones from the mixture and then shape it into blocks. The last step is to carefully place the completed brick on the burning surface. The fire is made from charcoal collected from rail tracks.

One of the brickmakers is 32-year-old Andile Gcilu who lives with his grandmother, his great-grandmother and his son. He makes about R150 a week from the bricks, he says, depending on how good business is, and for the rest the family depends on the social pensions of the two old ladies and Gcilu’s child support grant. “The money I make here is not enough, but we manage. My grannies’ pension money and my son’s child support grant cover most of the expenses at home and then my money is for the small things that needs to be covered,” said Gcilu. Gcilu used to work in the retail industry but due to ‘family problems’ he had to resign and join his friends making the bricks and, he said, he discovered a passion for this.

The most experienced member of the group is 28-year-old Thulani Sirhiy who started making bricks in 2007. “I love my job. We don’t make that much money but for me it is enough, because I don’t have any other qualifications. This is basically my qualification,” said Sirhiy. He said this was the only work he had ever done because he did not have matric.

Akhona Skeyi has also been making bricks for eight years and has two children who depend on his income. “We sometimes make about R900 a week and split that amongst the six of us and get about R150, depending on how well the business does that week,” said Skeyi. The bricks go for R1.00 to R1.20 each compared to a minimum of about R6.80 elsewhere.

The men said their main problem was that they did not have proper working materials. They needed better tools, boots and protective gloves to avoid being burnt by the hot bricks.

Phumela Yibhana, 22, the youngest, who used to work as a general worker for public works, said he did not regret his decision to quit and join the others over a year ago and make his own money and work when he wants to and not because he has to. “I don’t have a child, so I only come here to help the guys and get a few bucks, enough to buy toiletries for myself,” said Yibhana.

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TOPICS:  Labour

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