FRESH outrage surfaced over Coast Care beach cleaners in Port Alfred this week, when nine workers were allegedly found sleeping in the bush at West Beach instead of doing their job.
Dave Macgregor, a reporter for TotT’s sister newspaper, the Daily Dispatch, became embroiled in the controversy when he confronted the alleged slackers on Monday and took photographs. He said he made sure it was not lunch time or tea break.
“Some ran away, others hid their faces and one guy came at me with a stick,” Macgregor told TotT.
At an informal hearing the following day, several Coast Care workers accused Macgregor of racism.
Coast Care workers have come under fire from TotT readers and in council meetings a number of times over the past two years as residents have accused the beach-cleaning crew of dragging around empty refuse bags and ignoring litter in their path.
Pensioner Herman Breetzke, who has observed the formerly orange-garbed workers’ movements over the past two years, told TotT it had become easier for them to hide in their new “camouflage” green uniforms.
More than 100 unemployed people have been given jobs through the Working for the Coast programme from Keiskamma to Kenton-on-Sea.
The provincial department of economic development and environmental affairs (Dedea) has pumped R8-million into the two-year project, most of which goes to salaries.
Every day, two groups of 10 workers each are assigned to pick up litter and eradicate alien vegetation on East and West beaches in Port Alfred, but residents have reported the groups disappear into the dunes and only reappear at knock-off time, with empty bags.
“I’m at the beach every day,” Breetzke told TotT. “I spend time looking at the whales through my binoculars.”
He said it was during these times that he observed the actions and movements of the Coast Care workers.
“They’ll take some rubbish out of a bin at the West Beach parking lot and put it in their bags. There are usually nine workers on each beach but some days, like (Monday) there were only five workers on East Beach.”
He said the group on East Beach normally disappeared around a dune, but he had followed the movements of the group on West Beach, and they took about two and a half hours to walk 2km to Kelly’s Beach.
“They only get to Kelly’s at about 9.50am, then they go to the toilets, fill their water bottles and drink and about half an hour later they disappear into the bush for the rest of the day,” said Breetzke.
“Nine out of ten times they don’t even get as far as Kelly’s.”
He said he had observed the group of nine exiting the bush opposite West Beach Manors at about 3.30pm and making their way to the library to knock off.
After Macgregor reported Monday’s incident to Dedea and MBB Consulting Engineers, who have been appointed to manage the project, MBB director Pravesh Nosib called a meeting with Macgregor, the workers and the Ndlambe council’s labour forum.
TotT was also present.
After Macgregor related his story and showed photographic evidence to Nosib, the workers were given the opportunity to have their say. Working for the Coast project manager Mandisi Stuma served as interpreter.
Bulelwa Mavata, who said she was a supervisor, accused Macgregor of calling them “k*****s” and “loafers who don’t work, but misuse his parents’ taxes”.
Thembinkosi Hlangana, whom Macgregor accused of threatening him with a stick, said he had a problem with Macgregor’s attitude as he accused the journalist of giving Coast Care workers a hard time at Kelly’s Beach last December.
He said on Monday Macgregor was “with an old man who usually stalks us”.
Hlangana accused Macgregor of swearing at them as he approached, taking photographs.
Nosib and councillor Skura Venene, who chaired the meeting, said the allegations against the Coast Care workers were serious and the matter would be investigated. They asked for a written statement from Macgregor.
“If anyone is caught sleeping during working hours there is disciplinary action. If they are found guilty they can be dismissed and someone else hired in their place,” said Nosib. “There’s a list of people waiting for jobs.”