Death of a town

Hav­ing barely sur­vived the clo­sure of the tex­tile in­dus­try, Ham­mars­dale res­i­dents are in dire straits af­ter this week’s lay-offs in the poul­try sec­tor

CityPress - - News - PADDY HARPER paddy.harper@city­

Fa­rook Kado­dia is a very wor­ried man. The owner of a Ham­mars­dale su­per­mar­ket, lo­cated in Dur­ban in KwaZulu-Natal, has ev­ery rea­son to be con­cerned af­ter spend­ing – just last year – sev­eral mil­lion rands on ex­tend­ing and up­grad­ing his Ham­mars­dale Hyper store. The su­per­mar­ket is right next door to the main Rainbow Chick­ens P2 pro­cess­ing plant.

It is just be­fore mid­day when Kado­dia closes shop on Fri­day to at­tend prayers at the lo­cal mosque. But the su­per­mar­ket, with its brand new ovens and shelv­ing, is quiet.

The ef­fect that Mon­day’s re­trench­ment of more than 1 000 work­ers at Rainbow Chick­ens (now RCL Foods) has had on his busi­ness is al­ready ap­par­ent.

He has had to send half his staff home be­cause there were no cus­tomers for them to serve.

“This is al­ready hav­ing a huge im­pact on busi­ness,” says Kado­dia, who has been serv­ing Rainbow work­ers from his su­per­mar­ket for 20 years.

“It is go­ing to get worse. Peo­ple still have their re­trench­ment pack­ages, so the real im­pact has not fil­tered through yet. It will. “This is scary,’’ he adds. “We al­ready felt the im­pact in De­cem­ber be­cause peo­ple were scared to spend what lit­tle they had. We have a lower-in­come mar­ket, so we have to pro­vide qual­ity prod­ucts at low prices and make our profit on turnover. If we do not have vol­ume, it puts pres­sure on our prof­itabil­ity.”

This week, Rainbow laid off more than 1 000 staff. Some were from P2, but the bulk came from the 25 farms the com­pany has put up for sale, which have been ear­marked to be­come ware­houses or fac­to­ries at the in­dus­trial park cur­rently un­der devel­op­ment in Cato Ridge.

An­other 300 staff whose jobs were cut have been re­de­ployed to other RCL oper­a­tions in other prov­inces.

The lat­est round of re­trench­ments, caused by the R1 mil­lion-aday losses the iconic KwaZulu-Natal chicken pro­ducer has sus­tained – as a re­sult of drought-driven maize price hikes and com­pe­ti­tion with cheaper chicken dumped from abroad – will have an ef­fect far be­yond them and their fam­i­lies.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, Ham­mars­dale was KwaZulu-Natal’s in­dus­trial and tex­tile hub,” Kado­dia says.

“The town has been hit hard by the clo­sure of the tex­tile sec­tor here and by three sets of re­trench­ments at Rainbow. Ev­ery time the area seems to be sta­bil­is­ing, we get hit again.”

Lo­cated to­wards Dur­ban’s western bound­ary, Ham­mars­dale was the home of KwaZulu-Natal’s tex­tile in­dus­try from the 1950s, with Mpumalanga town­ship hav­ing been set up by the apartheid gov­ern­ment to house work­ers brought in to work in the fac­to­ries.

Sur­rounded by farm­land, the town also be­came home to dairy and chicken farms,




which spread to­wards Cato Ridge and Cam­per­down.

But from the late 1980s, the in­flow of cheap tex­tiles from coun­tries such as China, and the move­ment of em­ploy­ers to ar­eas with lower labour costs, be­gan to eat away at Ham­mars­dale’s econ­omy.

Mas­sive em­ploy­ers such as tex­tile gi­ant the Frame group pulled out of the town, shed­ding thou­sands of jobs.

On­line data tool Waz­imap re­veals that by the time the 2011 Cen­sus was taken, the of­fi­cial em­ploy­ment rate here sat at a mea­gre 28%. Fig­ures re­vealed that the bulk of the res­i­dents of the six wards mak­ing up Ham­mars­dale – one in­dus­trial, one ru­ral and four ur­ban – were poor, earn­ing less than R2 400 a month.

Now, with the loss of 1 000 pay pack­ets, mat­ters are go­ing to get much worse.

Mthetheleli Mjilo, a lo­cal land­scap­ing con­trac­tor and a leader of the Ham­mars­dale Busi­ness Fo­rum, grew up in the area and saw it dur­ing its hey­day.

“When I grew up here, there were jobs in the tex­tile in­dus­try. In 1994, when Nige­ria played in the soc­cer World Cup, my older brother was work­ing in the fac­tory here that made their shirts. This place had jobs,” he says.

Mjilo adds that the level of pros­per­ity in the area has grad­u­ally de­clined, with a ward-based mu­nic­i­pal sur­vey he took part in five years ago in­di­cat­ing that nearly half of res­i­dents were unem­ployed.

“The area can­not take much more of this,” he says.

“The tex­tile in­dus­try went first. Now it is chicken. For ev­ery job that is lost, you can say an­other six peo­ple are go­ing to bed with noth­ing to eat. That’s an­other 7 000 peo­ple go­ing hun­gry in this area. We have a very big prob­lem here.

“This is the last kick of Umh­langa Rocks


Umko­maas Bal­lito a dy­ing horse for Ham­mars­dale. We al­ready have thou­sands of young peo­ple who are fin­ish­ing school and who can­not get jobs lo­cally.” Lo­cal busi­ness­peo­ple – him­self in­cluded – are al­ready feel­ing the pinch. “The peo­ple who have been re­trenched are al­ready not spend­ing money on do­ing their gar­dens, tak­ing taxis or buy­ing here at the shop­ping cen­tre,” he says, in ref­er­ence to the lo­ca­tion for our in­ter­view. We are at the Ham­mars­dale Junc­tion, a new mall serv­ing Mpumalanga town­ship and the nearby in­dus­trial ar­eas. “This place gets busy when the Rainbow bus drops staff off when they fin­ish their shift. No more,” says Mjilo. Sihle Khany­ile (33), a lo­cal tow-truck op­er­a­tor, is also al­ready feel­ing the pres­sure. “When the tex­tile fac­to­ries closed, it al­ready hit busi­ness. Fewer peo­ple in jobs meant fewer cars and taxis, and less work for me. Now, with an­other 1 000 peo­ple not go­ing to work, it is hit­ting me too,” says Khany­ile. The re­trenched work­ers feel equally bleak about the sit­u­a­tion. God­frey Mt­shali (57), a re­trenched hu­man re­sources of­fi­cer at RCL, spent his week try­ing to deal with life with no job. “It is tough,” says the father of three univer­sity-go­ing chil­dren. “I do not know what I am go­ing to do. Things are very hard out there, and there are no posts go­ing. At least I have the means to try some­thing, but what about those with less skills? How are they go­ing to sur­vive this?” RCL man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Scott Pit­man says the re­trench­ments and farm sales have only bought the com­pany time, and that more lay-offs may fol­low. “We just bought our­selves some breath­ing space. The sit­u­a­tion has not im­proved and if gov­ern­ment does not act in the next month or two, this in­dus­try will be dead in 12 months,” he says. Pit­man says the farms are be­ing sold off as ware­houses and for in­dus­try, as the area has been ear­marked for a lo­gis­tics hub to even­tu­ally serve a ded­i­cated truck road link­ing the area to the Dur­ban har­bour. RCL has set up a R1 mil­lion train­ing fund to try to reskill staff who have been laid off. “We are try­ing to pro­vide some skills to peo­ple to en­able them to try to get work. Hav­ing said that, get­ting a job in the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment is no easy thing,” says Pit­man.

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GRIM RE­AL­ITY Ham­mars­dale is buck­ling un­der the strain of more un­em­ploy­ment af­ter more than 1 000 Rainbow Chicken work­ers were re­trenched

Mthetheleli Mjilo

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