Lesufi’s Green Army face a jobless tomorrow

Gauteng premier, Panyaza Lesufi has poured cold water on suggestions that Nasi iSpani has collapsed. Photo from Gauteng Provincial Government.

Over 90,000 recruits are left in limbo as Lesufi’s Nasi iSpani project is in turmoil.

After receiving sad news last week that their contracts won’t be renewed, thousands of Expanded Public Work Programme (EPWP) workers in Gauteng are rejoining the unemployment queue. They were part of Nasi iSpani, Premier Panyaza Lesufi’s employment initiative whose recruits were called the Green Army. They were employed last year for 12 months to clean the environment and plant food gardens in schools.

A memo, signed by the acting head of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development that was leaked on social media, informed the Green Army that their contracts ended on 31 May and that there were going to be delays in the payment of stipends for those who worked in June. The Gauteng Premier, Panyaza Lesufi did not waste time to dispute vehemently with the authors of the letter. “Someone is too excited. This letter was written without my consent or approval. The intention is clear to undermine the authority of the 7th administration. This won’t happen,” tweeted the premier on his social media page X.  

Paul Maluleke, the founder of Water Warriors that is dedicated to clean Jukskei River in Alexandra says he is disappointed by the news. Photo by Ramatamo Sehoai

One of the beneficiaries of this initiative in Alexandra who asked to remain anonymous confirms that indeed they were working as Green Army. They have since stopped working because their contracts were not renewed and they are, moreover, owed one month’s salary. “Before this job I was unemployed for a very long time. Now when I thought I found a job to take care of myself this happens. It’s very sad. I’ve got dreams. I’ve got commitments. I really hope something is done to absorb us permanently,” he said.   

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Paul Maluleke who started an NGO called Water Warriors in Alexandra to clean the Juskei River and sweep the streets of the township, says he was very happy to see many of his volunteers employed as Green Army because they share the commitment to fight poverty and create sustainable employment for especially young people. “It’s very disappointing. We were beginning to see the impact of their work. We hope sanity will prevail and leaders will reconsider their actions and hire these people again. Our problem in the country is indecisive leadership,” he said.

A ‘political gimmick’

Meanwhile, those who criticised Nasi iSpane could not spare the premier the rod and reminded him of their early warnings that it was just a political gimmick set to crumble immediately after the elections.  One of them is Giwusa. “General Industry Workers Union of South Africa condemns the abuse of power which distressed and humiliated thousands of people in this cynical election ploy. The Gauteng African National Congress exploited people’s desperation for employment, and then abandoned the workers and the much needed Green Army programme, from which both households and communities were benefitting. We demand the reinstatement on a permanent basis and decent wages, and massive expansion of the programme to employ tens of thousands more, in cleaning up streets, to fight floods, and manage other impacts,” the union says in a statement.

A façade to fund the
struggling campaign of
the ANC in Gauteng

– EFF

Opposition political parties did not let the opportunity to criticise Panyaza and the ANC go to waste. “The EFF has consistently warned society that these initiatives are nothing but a façade to fund the struggling campaign of the ANC in the province. This was confirmed by the statement of Collen Malatji, the president of the antiquated ANCYL, who publicly and boldly declared that the Nasi iSpane program, a government initiative funded with public resources, must unashamedly prioritize ANC members and volunteers,” said the Economic Freedom Fighters.

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“Political expedient programmes lacking long-term sustainability due to budget constraints will only leave the people, who are breadwinners solely dependent on these contracts, feeling shortchanged and diminish their trust in government,” said the Democratic Alliance, which is at loggerheads with the ANC over the allocation of posts in the provincial government unity arrangement.

Nasi iSpani is still
very much intact

– Premier Lesufi

The premier’s office released a statement reiterating his earlier stance and allaying the fears of the Green Army: “At the end of the 6th administration we established a Task Team to take stock of all the contracts that were coming to an end. Since being elected as the premier in the 7th administration, a report was presented and adopted on how we would manage the contracts that are coming to an end.

“We wish to allay all Nasi iSpani beneficiaries’ fears that this groundbreaking initiative is still very much intact. We remain resolute in our endeavor to address the challenge of unemployment in our province.” 

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