Two-thirds of the governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s community development workers — the grassroots civil servants deployed by President Thabo Mbeki to boost local government services — have failed to find jobs in municipalities in the Western Cape.
In his 2003 State of the Nation address, Mbeki launched the scheme to bring government services to peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s place of residence, citing the workers as part of a campaign to assist ”the marginalised in the wilder-ness of the Second Economy”.
But Western Cape councils have shown extreme reluctance to hire community workers, despite providing them with a yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s training. Just 138 of 378 who graduated in December have been hired, according to official statistics.
Cape Town took on 45 of the 110 who served their learnerships there,. The Cape Winelands, including Paarl and Stellenbosch, recruited 18 of 68. Cape South Coast councils such as George and Bitou hired 17 of 62.
Western Cape community workers have a credible track record, from helping the indigent to gain access to basic services and resolving stalled social grant allocations to job creation and starting a choir.
Imparting information is a key part of the job, including talking to farmers about labour and tenancy rights, facilitating community participation in public hearings on property develop-ments and alerting councillors of government roadshows.
”People didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even know about the [councilÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s] indigence policy. Those earning under R1Ã‚Â 500 qualify,” said Julian Boer, a church choirmaster who pounds the streets in an area of Riviersonderend where 80% of households depend on social grants.
But the workers have frequently found themselves in conflict with councillors. Many elected public representatives and officials feel threatened by, or are uninformed about, the initiative.
Eunice Hlahla, responsible for three wards in the Democratic Alliance-controlled George council, said: ”Since they [the community] know us, they are not going to the councillors any more.”
Western Cape local government and housing minister Richard Dyantyi said councils cited financial constraints for not taking on community workers.