Monday, September 17, 2007

2007. Post Apartheid SA Dispatch and Christchurch Bakery Work, 1997

< 1997. Esslemonts at CookieTime, Templeton, near Christchurch.

April 1997. Alleman's dispatch: "Skilled people emigrating. Many of our company managers and technical experts resigned in the last 12 months. Our new General Manager resigned after 3 weeks and emigrated to Canada. There's not one manager to lead our business. Two years ago we had many managers. We trained black managers, but after qualifying they're off to the cities. Many retired whites are moving to PE, George and especially Cape Town, where properties are expensive. Two years ago, I bought a flat in Stellenbosch for R110 000. I can now sell it for R150 000. Many Germans and Dutch are retiring to the Cape, winning on exchange-rates.

Falling Rand provides new opportunities. A European firm tours cities offering fantastic money for jewellery. Economy booming, especially exports. Jobs in the formal sector are shrinking. Government at all levels showing idealism and incompetence. We have the most liberal constitution in the world, for a barbaric country - we're still burning witches. Employment Equity Law is proposed - equal work opportunities. Workplaces must reflect population composition. Employment Standards Law - time-and-a-half overtime pay, and shortened work week. Local government is chaotic. Umtata municipality ordered 126 new cars - all vanished. Skilled people shortages - municipalities short-staffed.

Elderly people on farms are being robbed and killed. In Bloem white suburb, a bicycle was stolen by a black youth - beaten to death. Pointless reporting crimes to cops. About 10 senior SANP were encouraged to attend literacy-numeracy classes. Black locals resent black immigrants from poor neighbouring states. Big inflow of illegal imports - Customs are struggling.

SATV may close down - will retrench 1400 out of 4500 workers. [Allister Sparks, Beyond the Miracle, Profile Books, London, 2003]. 6000 teachers were retrenched in Western Cape, as government couldn't pay salaries. Six months later, many received a letter: 'Sorry a mistake. Please return to work.' Farmers must provide lodgings. If workers refuse to move after farm-work completion, the farmer can do nothing. Workers may end up owning some of his farm. New scramble for Africa - Anglo moving into Africa. Afrikaners are demoralized seeing SA as hopeless."

At the bakery, I picked, packed and despatched finished-product cookie boxes, working a forty hour week. I'd replaced a Maori whose contract had expired. He swore at me before leaving. Cambodian Wang, my NZ schooled storeman boss, resented my intrusion in his in-goods and out-goods warehouses, as he stole cookies. His job included giving goodwill cookies to truckers and couriers. Wang hid cookies in his company overall, then hid cookies in his car during smokos. The warehouses were humid in summer and freezing in winter. Daily, we manually stacked tons of 20kg boxes. Incoming ingredient sacks and boxes were heavier, coming from USA; Philippines; Australia; Britain; SA - Safari raisins. Hundreds of fresh eggs and tons of Kiwi butter and chocolate arrived weekly. Wang and I shifted the lot.

Receptionist Katipo was friendly to customers, but curt to staff. Every morning, Katipo placed order-forms on our out-goods warehouse table. Wang and I palletised and clear-plastic wrapped orders on a pallet-wrapping machine. Some pallet orders weighed over half a ton. Wang used his calculator when doing consignment-note sums, as he couldn't do decimals mentally, like me. Wang haphazardly stuffed papers into his filing cabinet, as he didn't know the alphabet. I filed his papers alphabetically, but he re-jumbled them. In the ten months I worked with Wang, I endured his crazy filing and resentment, and Wang kept face by not asking me how to file alphabetically.

The level of Wang's conversation: "Did ya watcha khuur (cool) Plotea clicket onna TV eh Mak?" Wang reported to Maori boss Marti, and there was tension between them. Fridays were busiest, as franshisee distributors needed stock after weekends, and it took two days to truck-ferry-truck cookies to Auckland. Wang: "Did ya watcha khuur Splingboks beata Arr Bracks onna TV eh Mak?" Wang's idea of leadership was wearing a Springbok beanie on cold mornings.

I bought a behind-the-ear digital hearing-aid, computer-adjusted to dampen background noise, but automatic dampening was too much, leaving me with auditory figure-ground hassles. Example: I couldn't hear family conversation while TV was on, as my digital hearing-aid dampened TV sound, making it hard to hear speech. I would never hear well again. I didn't buy two digital hearing-aids, as I'd already wasted money buying analogue hearing-aids. Music, TV and noisy environments like roads, malls, schools, theatres, cinemas, restaurants were horrible. My digital hearing-aid gave squeaky feedback.

Due to my hearing aids' back-directionality, it was hazardous for me in city streets, as I had no idea where noisy traffic originated. If my family spoke to me from another room, I couldn't understand their disembodied speech. Using my 30% "hearing," without hearing-aids, If I cupped my ears with my hands, and Leah or sons shouted at me, I could just hear them. I dreaded my deafness would worsen. Only in 2007 did we buy a TV which gave captions. TV1 captions were crap. DVD captions were good, but costly, as not all DVDs had captions.

"Say that again?... Pardon?... I'm deaf, please repeat..." became humiliating repetitions in my interactions with patronizing strangers. Without hearing-aids, I sometimes heard low-frequency, loud noises like plates clattering, engines grinding, or traffic rumbling - mostly horrible noises.

Irritating noises below "normal" hearing were heard by my digital hearing-aid: like clocks ticking at night; humming and howling from electrical wires, car electronics and building security systems. Labouring work caused my hearing-aids to sweat-up, so I cleaned my ears with baby-buds to remove wax and sweat, to preserve my hearing-aids. Using a rubber puffer, I puffed air through tubes of my hearing-aids to dry them, or sometimes went to an audiologist to machine-dry my hearing-aids.

Behind-the-ear hearing-aids weren't made for labouring jobs. I'd already lost one hearing-aid in leaf litter, while hoisting crates onto my shoulders at the nursery. Hoisting cookie boxes onto my shoulders at the bakery threatened to hammer hearing-aids into my skull.

Bakery workers' production was controlled by Marti, Crumbles and Crumble's brother Spanner, tech trained engineer, who maintained machines and ovens. When warehouses were quiet, Wang and I did odd-jobs like cleaning, painting, repairing pallets and unloading containers, or helping at the packing-machine conveyor, where we hand-turned thousands of cookies, and stacked finished-product boxes on pallets - tons of them. Marti or Crumbles often switched the packing-machine dial to "Fast," and after packing sessions our arms and wrists ached. Wang and I pallet-jack hauled full pallets to the despatch warehouse - tons of pallets. The packing-machine was so loud, I thought the bakery labourers would soon be deaf like me. Earmuffs weren't supplied.

Behind each toilet door by our locker-room hung a sign with a picture showing two feet standing on a toilet seat. A red cross was painted over the picture. English and Cambodian words read, "Don't stand on the toilet seat! You could injure yourself!" Sometimes seats were soiled, and the Pakeha cleaning / tea lady had to clean up the mess.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

See Occupational Safety and Health (OSH).

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