All the men and women look the same now. Dark grey trousers and grey tunic tops with red collars and gold, black and red trimmings around the sleeves. A woman in the lift said, I don’t want to look like a man, I want my old skirt back. But Supercare management didn’t consult the workers when they decided to change the clothes these people have to wear to work everyday. Now we look like soldiers, said one man. The old uniforms had pockets, the new uniforms have none. So some of the women have taken to using their old aprons, tied around the waist, in order to supply a pocket – for keys, cash, ID and other things. Supercare management say That’s against the rules, You are not to wear the old uniform. But the staff need their pockets. Take your new uniforms to the tailor, says Supercare management, Have some pockets sewn on. Supercare won’t pay for that. Supercare say the workers should pay themselves. Two pockets would cost about R40, I’m told. Supercare staff earn about R1200 or R1400 a month (before I came here, a South African friend warned me about the cost of food in this country. You’ll need at least R1000 per person per month, the friend said). They were on strike a year or two ago, and the wages rose a little. They want to go on strike again, to push the wages up a little further, and Supercare management say they mustn’t strike on campus. Some Supercare workers say that the university is also against striking cleaners on campus. It would look such a mess. Some workers think the university – known for its contribution in the struggle for equality – condones Supercare ‘s diabolical care of its workers. Some workers think they have been let down. Some workers say Conditions have got worse for us even with the new government. We don’t have rights. We don’t have medical aid. We don’t have sick pay. We will be poor forever. I heard a student say The Supercare workers are dumb, and lazy. I heard a member of staff say The Supercare workers should be more creative in their approach to cleaning. More creative cleaning is what is demanded. Some people say creativity requires laziness, requires accidental thought*.

For more on the life of a Supercare cleaner, read this and this and this. For a review of the book that details Wits’ history during the apartheid era, go here.

*brought to my attention by Tim Etchell’s post Just as Money is Paper.