Car guards booted out at mall

Athina May

After 12 years working as car guards at the Bothasig Mall, Kadima “Ngoy” Mudiwamdji and five other car guards were dismissed from their jobs with only a few days’ notice and no compensation for years of service.

Mr Mudiwamdji and Athanase Matsynou, who worked side-by-side at the mall for more than 10 years, expressed their sorrow at having lost their only income. They say the mall management has potentially condemned them to a life of thieving by taking away their living.

“On Friday (February 26) they told us Monday is our last day. They want us to become criminals and break into houses to live. I have three children I must feed, and I am renting. My wife is working, but it won’t be enough,” says Mr Mudiwamdji.

Mr Matsynou sits silently next to him, looking down. He says, “I worked here for 11 years. I don’t know where I must go to now. We’re very sad, it’s a horrible time.”

Mr Matsynou and Mr Mudiwamdji came to South Africa from Congo about 12 years ago. There, Mr Matsynou worked as a librarian, and Mr Mudiwamdji worked fixing computers.

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“I am qualified as an electronics engineer, but because of problems with my paperwork in South Africa, working as a car guard was the only work I could do,” said Mr Mudiwamdji.

Due to the informal nature of their work, the men had no contract to work at the mall.

They worked under supervisor Peter van der Merwe, whom they paid each day to retain their posts. However, Mr Van der Merwe left his job after having a stroke.

He was surprised to learn the guards had been dismissed.

He said he had worked with the men since they started 12 years ago and can’t understand why they were let go.

“They didn’t have a contract with the mall; I had a contract with the mall, but they were good men. I worked with them for a long time. When I had a stroke, they visited me in hospital. There was never any trouble with them,” he said.

Theo Simlah of the Blend Property Group, which manages the mall, denied Mr Van der Merwe had had a contract, instead he had managed the guards informally.

Mr Simlah claimed he had received complaints about the car guards’ behaviour, but he did not give details.

“They were not employed by the mall, therefore no compensation was due. They were not removed from the mall. The new company, Mastiff Security, which has been mandated to manage the car guards on a more formal basis, did approach each existing car guard to offer them an ongoing presence at the mall,” said Mr Simlah.

Mr Mudiwamdji and Matsynou said they had been told they would get a chance to join the new company and they were shown the new company uniform.

However, in the end, they were told the company did not want them.

“They came to us and showed us the uniform, but on Monday they just said that the company didn’t want us and didn’t say why,” said Mr Mudiwamdji.

Owner of Mastiff Security, Joseph Hartzenberg, said he had approached the men three times asking for their documentation so they could be put onto his employment system, but they had not co-operated.

“I have given them the opportunity, I asked for their documentation, asylum papers or passport, as I keep a record of all my employees. I approached them on three occasions, but they never produced it. I also have kids, and I don’t want to be a monster and take their job away.

“I even offered them something close to their home, and it’s not true that there were no problems with the car guards. There were some difficulties. If they’re dissatisfied with the decision made against them, they can come speak to me. I will help them as much as possible,” said Mr Hartzenberg.

Mr Mudiwamdji denied having been asked for his paperwork and said all his papers were in order but the company simply refused him and the other men work.

Cosatu Western Cape provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said there was currently no union representation for car guards and there protection, but Cosatu was working on that.

“The definition of employment is clearly defined, and individuals who are employed cannot be retrenched without the laws being abided by. There are no union representatives for car guards, but the union should be making a greater effort to organise car guard workers.

“Cosatu is working on it,” said Mr Ehrenreich.