Fezekile Futhwa 

Revolutionary Relay - Write What You Like


And so the time comes when a young Afrikan man must go and make a living. Gone are the days when we would grow up in the family farming business, a vocation most likely to be ours forever. Time to face the realities of this world and test our abilities in whatever vocation we may have studied. It is a tricky one this studying thing. For one spends so much time studying but it seems studying is a world apart with realities of work.

At school, one is taught all manner of things. They say information technology, software development to be specific, is a very difficult field. So much that they demand a good pass in matric mathematics to allow you entry. Conceptual knowledge, analytical/critical thinking, methodologies and other nice words are emphasised. These will supposedly become in handy when work starts and are purportedly the only tools a young professional will need to do well in his/her chosen profession. You sit in class and spend a good three years learning these things and you eagerly look forward to the day you will start work. And slowly time churns and graduation comes, what an achievement!

The majority of us come from poor families, for some it is chronic poverty. Yet our parents somehow always manage to scrap money together for school. Add to that the expensive books required for our vocations. I could never believe that a single book cost around R600! The sad reality is that for some parents, these school fees are more than any money they have ever made in their entire lives. Yet, somehow, they must come up with money for their children to have a better future. And how proud they are, the parents, when graduation finally comes. Everyone in the village and surroundings knows about it.

For many of us graduation is a curse that leads to shame and frustration. For many, years goes by without any hope for employment in the vocation one so hard studied for. Months go by and people are forced into hard labour just to escape famine. Your education becomes a burden because how can such an educated folk roam the streets without employment? Having been to college meant you were educated by our village standards. The reality that the family may be bankrupt due to the school fees sets in and you know you must find work. Yet work seem so elusive to a young black professional these days. Months become years and many settled for just about any job just to avoid going insane. And you desperately hope something will come up real soon. As months become years many became disillusioned and become a bitter people. I was fortunate the bursary covered my fees, so there was not much bankruptcy to worry about in my family.

Affirmative action? AA is the worst lie to reach our shores in recent history. It is purpoted to be the tool enabling black people to enter the job market and develop into whatever they so desire. White people are hell bent on complaining that AA takes jobs away from them, yet I am yet to meet educated and skilled white people who are unemployed! I have had to work under many white people who were less qualified than I am. I continue to generally earn less than my white counterparts simply because they are white and I am black. Many black graduates remain unemployed despite their education, skills and experience. The corporate sector keeps complaining that they can't find suitable black people, yet we remain unemployed or employed in areas that utilises less of our skills.

How can such an educated person suffer so much? And the young ones are having a tough time justifying the value of being educated. For it is not only the college ones looming our streets looking for employment. Teachers and university graduates are amongst the mix. With so many case studies in our midst of how poor educated folks can become, examples of how hard life can become, educated or not. Some families have gone bankrupt due to accumulated debts, one which no one in the family is able to settle. Debts accumulated with the sole intention of providing education and a good life to one of our own. One who is desperately on the brink of madness, possibly a drunk by now. Drowning ones sorrows in the forever abundant alcohol. The only form in abundance wherever you may go in our villages.

And so young black folks in the villages and townships refuse to go to school. What for, they ask. What good is education if many who are educated are among us, even poorer because of high bills accumulated? What good is education if our family today is bankrupt in the quest for a good life, when our lives are worse than before? And so families are broken as a result. Many whose spirits have been broken loom our villages and townships abusing alcohol. Many work as general labourers despite their qualifications.

Those who were lucky enough to find suitable employment are a source of pride, an inspiration that indeed it does pay to educate your child. Big jobs with big companies in big cities. It seems everything is big with them, and some even a big ego. The entire village/township looks up to them, they are our role models. They are the shining example to our kids of what they must become when they grow up. To this day, the following professions are well known and prestigious: teacher, police, nurse, medical doctor, accountant and engineering. For us who were unlucky enough to land in IT, we can't even explain what we do to common folks! The going description is that we work with computers, no matter what you do in the field. Henceforth people come to us for any computer related problem and are expected to be able to assist.

The majority of former college mates work as clerks, secretaries and general office workers. Some have since studied other vocations and changed careers. Many despised programming anyway, they did it only because they had to. They had no choice in the matter, just like I had no choice. For the majority of us, our post matric studies were either chosen or highly influenced by our parents. I did not dislike programming, I just happened to like other vocations better, accounting in particular. I never knew anyone who was a programmer, let alone know what a programmer does.

South African Weather Bureau

I was offered a job while in third year by a company my father worked for, but I never worked for them as my father blatantly refused my working there. To this day I have no idea why he refused, but all I know is that it was a painful experience. I had no job offers, except being a tutor, and yet the only promising job I could not accept. Especially considering how large the company was, it was really sad. My promise of a tutoring post never materialised either. I don't know what happened, but I sat at home looking for a job. From January to April of 1997 I was searching desperately for work, any kind of work would do. Then I got called to an interview in mid April in Pretoria at the South Afrikan Weather Bureau. I got the job, Senior Programmer, the day following the interview and waited for the paper work before starting work, which ended up taking a long three months but was relieved to loiter at home knowing I had job.

Work started with great enthusiasm and I looked forward to the promise of a good life. Completely different is everything. It turned out I was to be based in Bethlehem, about 80 kilometers from home. For the first time ever in my life I would live alone in a strange place. We fought with my parents about this. They reckoned I could, actually should, continue staying at home and travel the distance on a daily basis; something I obviously was against and won the fight. I remember leaving home with R700 in my pockets from which I were to pay rent, buy food, buy some clothes for work and taxi fares. The R700 was borrowed money and my first debt to repay on my first salary.

Despite the fact that I had no clue what my job entailed, except that it was a software development role, I was terrified. Job descriptions can be so misleading. Would college education prove adequate for this job? All turned out to be okay though. The people turned out to be very friendly and supportive. I was the only black person in the team, the other black; a meteorologist, had just resigned. I worked mostly with Afrikaner folks, the rest were of some British sort. I still remember Nico Kroese, Karel de Waal and Dr Deon Terreblanche. Karel was my supervisor who taught me independence from the start. I had to learn to be self sufficient from the way go. Any help needed would be found in the books in my office, the computer room or the internet. I learnt a lot about computer technology there, not just programming stuff. To this day I still love research and development that Karel was so fond of. I always laugh when I remember Dr Terreblanche, whose office was next to mine. "I am sorry Fezi but I am not going to stop smoking in the office just because of some stupid government regulation.", this he says in response to the recently promulgated law prohibiting smoking in public places, including government offices. And he smoked some heavy stuff, I don't know what kind of cigarettes they were, but the smell was so toxic I kept my door closed most of the time and the window always open. I have fond memories of that place, the Bethlehem Precipitation Research Project, simply known as the Bethlehem Weather Office.

Call it naivette, I call it being overly ambitious, I left them after 18 months. I felt I was not growing quick enough, my career I mean. Something really ridiculous now that I look back. I had three salary increases and two bonuses in that period. I was due for a promotion and relocation to the head office in Pretoria soon. A new post was being created for me to become the webmaster responsible for the online activities of the South African Weather Bureau. I had learnt to become a web developer, knew a lot about various Unix distributions and was a promising Linux administrator. Little did I know that my career would end up focusing on the internet anyway. I yearned to explore the world of software development so much that I intended to have a taste of what it's like to be a programmer in the commercial environment. And my journey began of wanting to accumulate as much knowledge as possible in this field. And I figured the quickest way was to become a consultant working on varied projects with multiple clients.

I remember going for an interview in Johannesburg, it was the first time I went to Johannesburg by myself. My first interview was in Rivonia followed by another in Woodmead, places none of which I knew their whereabouts. A friend of my father's would pick me up somewhere in Johannesburg and drop me off in Rivonia, and from there I was on my own. I managed to make it on time to both interviews and got the job. Problem was going back home, it was late already in the afternoon and I did not intend finding out if I could still get a taxi back home at that time. So I had to look for an overnight accommodation somewhere. I found myself in Fourways, I still don't know how, and couldn't get a room at Indaba Hotel. Well, rooms were plenty but the going rate was R600 a night excluding breakfast. For the life of me, that was daylight robbery in my opinion. Pay so much for just a room! No ways, no matter how comfortable this room may turn out to be, I still wouldn't justify the cost. The joke is that I chose Indaba Hotel because the name sounded African, and how expensive can an African hotel be? I was dead wrong! So by seven o'clock in the evening I was getting off a taxi in Alberton, still looking for a room! It was dark, I was tired and hungry; I knew no one in Johannesburg. The first hotel had no rooms available! I got a room at the Alberton hotel at about seven thirty in the evening for R350, what I had expected to pay for a room.

Safika Technologies

I had to find a place to live in Johannesburg as new work started in just over a month. I was assured by my father's friend that he had secured a good place for me, and I deposited the requisite payment. I was shocked, to say the least, when I arrived in Johannesburg and was taken to my new room. The place was worse than a shack, even though it was a room in a matchbox house. The door did not close even though it locked. Anyone could come and go, and I worried about my privacy and little possessions I had. I wondered everyday what happens to my loaf of bread, it would be eaten at a particular angle and depth all the time I woke up or came from work. After about a week I ended up concluding it must be Gauteng bread, it goes bad this way. Until I realised one night when I felt something moving right on my bed! I jumped and switched on the lights and there it was, bustard. It was the mouse that was eating my bread all this time. I knew I couldn't live in such a place, but I was already here so I had no choice. I started looking for an alternative accommodation over weekends and found one after two weeks of searching.

Interesting this life of back room dwelling. An entire industry on its own, and so many people oblivious to this way of life. Many of our people make a living this way, while many survive by renting this way. And it serves such a big market one wonders why a blind eye is turned to the needs of black folks who need suitable accommodation. Living in suburban flats and cottages is a big no for most of us. The lifestyles there are just too cryptic. Rent overcharged and the atmosphere generally hostile to us. Plus travelling becomes a nightmare as public transport is by bus and taxis are located very far away. Food is expensive, electricity, water and everything else. And you find yourself always drifting back to the townships over weekends to spend your time. You can't find makwenya, bunny chow, chesa nyama le maotwana in suburbs. We love our food we Afrikan folks, no matter how far you travel in the world, and these burgers and pitzas just won't do,

You know mos life in the townships is generally about survival, so people don't really care about luxury items such as cars and big houses, there is no space for cars and big houses to start with. Taking a taxi to work every day is acceptable and people live within their means. In suburb life on the other hand one must own a car, have a credit card and generally subscribe to white lifestyle. Here in the townships people meet and talk. People generally take an interest in one another's life. In suburban life you are on your own no matter what. In short, our Afrikanness is still visible in townships despite our hardships. Plus pinkies(fifty rands) goes a long way in the township.

I was employed as a consultant by Safika Technologies. This was more of a business consultancy work than it was an IT consultancy. Business process re-engineering was their specialty. I learnt that the project for which I was hired was due to start only in April! So I was four months away from starting my job, I would assist others in the mean time and be sent on some training. As nothing seemed sure at the time, I became bored very soon and was loosing my mind with boredom. You don't know work boredom until sleeping and tiredness become a daily routine. The company had many subsidiaries specialising in different businesses, and one of them specialised in software development with a strong focus on the web, Safika Online. I asked them to assist in their work while I was waiting for my project to start, they offered me a job, much to the dissatisfaction of the management of the holding company. I became a star member of their team and tremendously enjoyed what I did. Not only was I developing in ColdFusion, I also quickly became a project leader, account manager, trainer, system administrator and support person. I soon was in charge of multiple projects running concurrently, liaising a lot with clients and trained customers in one of the products the company sold, HomeSite. I also composed training material and delivered the training for the then South African Telecommunications and Regulatory Authority for their online content management system, for which I was the developer. I became responsible for the registration of domains and their maintenance.

I thoroughly enjoyed my work here as it involved a lot of travelling to clients and I dealt with a lot of clients at once. In late 1999 the company decided to become the official partner of Allaire Corporation, the manufacturer of some of the products we were using such as ColdFusion, HomeSite and Spectra. As part of this decision, the company was discontinuing its Java development division, a division I was eager to join. Without Java, my continued interest in the company was seriously compromised. Allaire Corporation was not enough of a motivation for me to exclusively develop on their products. Add to that the fact that after a year with the company, when no communication was forthcoming, I enquired about my salary review which I am sure should have taken place by then. When the response was that none was forthcoming, and the fact that they refused to pay for my studies, coupled with the fact that they were paying telephone costs for some of my colleagues and not me; it was time for me to go elsewhere.

First National Bank

I found myself in the employ of First National Bank as their Intranet Developer. This was of great challenge to me as I was employed to develop in technologies I have never used before, ASP and Visual Basic. And my first full development project was in three days of joining the company. So rapid learning was required to be ready for this. Work turned out to be very fascinating here as I got exposed to financial systems. Working on these applications also made me acutely aware of the banking environment. I became the only developer, and I was the only black developer, in the team to work on multiple projects concurrently. I took over a project on teller differences from another developer, apparently the project had issues and was long overdue. I never knew what the issue was, but I completed the project and it was fascinating work for me. It taught me how tellers worked at branches and exactly how cash was accounted for. Then I got given a project no one in my team wanted, I never knew the reasons for their refusal. The project was technically interesting for me, plus I saw no reason why I would turn a project down. The project was to develop an intranet based application where all telephone usage in the company could be monitored. Every individual would be able to login and view their telephone usage reports up to the previous day and for supervisors and managers to view those of their subordinates. For the executives to see only summaries of their departments.

I never knew this was a political project filled with issues from the start. When I was given the project I had three weeks in which to complete the entire system, working alone on the project. These were really ambitious time frames but non negotiable non the less. I eagerly put effort on the project and delivered my first prototype in about a week. which was to be demonstrated to the client. It turned out the requirements given were completely incorrect! A second set of requirements was given to me to work with and another prototype delivered for sampling. The client was furious with the outcomes. It turned, for the second time, that the requirements on which I was working were incorrect. By this time I had three days left on my schedule. I am getting my requirements from a team consisting of a project manager, a team leader and two business analysts. How on earth do you get requirements so wrong, twice? The client, the head of our unit and the project manager were furious. So I proposed and successfully put forth a case for me to sit in a session with the client to gather the requirements.

It was a Wednesday afternoon when this meeting took place, followed by a meeting where the head of the business was to tell us that no developer was allowed to see a client! This then left me with two days to develop and test the entire system and time frames were non negotiable despite the fact that the previous two attempts had been wrong!!! My weekend had just been wiped out as it was clear I had to work how ever long it takes to ready the system by Monday morning, a working prototype at least. I worked into the night and over the weekend and had a ready prototype by Monday, and the client was happy with what he saw. We got the go ahead to complete the project and start planning for implementation in the remaining four days. I did complete the system, but we ran into serious performance problems when the system went into production. I was not that surprised because the design was based on the original requirements document, which has been wrong. The system has gone through four iterations without regard to design. Of course I was doing hacks to get it running in those circumstances and no one would relent on project scheduling. Not even when I asked for more developers to assist with other aspects of the project.

The bottleneck was with the data access layer. As the data structure had changed with each iteration, this layer was supposed to have been entirely designed for the final accepted specification; but it never happened. At exactly the same time, the project manager resigned and joined another division in the bank. The intranet team was merged with the internet team. FirstRand bought FNB. There were problems with the new project manager from the first day I met him. I don't know the brief he had on the project but it was clear all blame and wrongs lied squarely on my shoulders. My reputation was seriously compromised, and all my team members could say was "why do you think we refused to work on that project?" I never had insight into the project so I knew nothing. With more resources seconded to the project, the system was fixed in a few days and signed off.

It was mid December when the project was signed off. I put a request for a weeks leave after christmas which was refused without reason. All my team members went on leave and had to continue coming to work. By mid January I had finished all my projects and again I requested leave, which was refused again. A new team member who had been with the company for two months was granted a months leave, so I went to enquire with the head. He words were "Fezekile if your life is such that you cannot continue working, you must resign." Just for wanting to know why I couldn't go on leave despite the fact that I had no outstanding projects, in fact I had no projects at all.

I fully remember resolving that I had had enough and I was going, leave or no leave. So I disappeared from the office for a week without notice and just sat at home thinking. When I went back they demanded an explanation and were taking me to a company medical specialist for a check up of whether I had been sick or not. I do not have to justify myself to anyone, not even my parents. If these people were so aggrieved such that they will go to great lengths to prove or disprove a medical case, they could go to hell. I have never slagged with my work. There has never been a complaint about my work up to that point of the December project. And I find myself sitting in front a white panel demanding that I explain myself! I took myself and went home and for them never to see me ever again. I had been with this company for thirteen months now, and to my knowledge I had done so much for them. I even introduced research and development sessions where I was imparting skills to fellow team members on various topics relevant to our work. This resulted in the company having a full fledged linux test environment that became a requirement with FirstRand.

I did not care anymore, there were better things in my life than this. So I ignored their calls and refused to talk to them. They sent me letters of demand that I be in the office for a disciplinary hearing, I refused. I did not need any hearing, nor was I interested in any. It was the end of January and my salary was due. I went to the bank one morning and found that my bank account had been freezed. Since I was using a staff account, I figured maybe, well I don't know. I tried using my savings account and it too was frozen. The savings account I had had since I was a student in college! My branch said they don't know the reason but I should enquire with head office. Head office said my employers are looking me and my accounts will remain frozen until the HR matters are resolved. And so my bank accounts remained frozen for the next thirteen months. Thirteen months later they called me and asked if I still wanted to use my accounts! Ba ntlwaela hampe. To this day I hate FNB and will never do any form of business with them, including working for them.

Professional Colleges of SA

This is how I found myself teaching first year students at a private college in Welkom. My modules were information systems, introduction to programming(Turbo Pascal), end-user computing and the boring student administration work one must perform. All these at a salary that was less than what I used to spend on groceries. I did not know, up to that point, that one is quite capable of making students understand even the most cryptic subjects. I actually loved having to explain things at varying levels for the benefit of everyone. But I still yearned to be at the fore-front of technology, and teaching is the last place where technology is embraced. I was bewildered to see the things our students were not taught, things we took for granted. I experienced the arrogance and sometimes just plain lack of manners for some people that I decided no thanks. So I only spent six months teaching, although I was a bit perturbed to leave seeing that some students had really taken to heart some of the things one was trying hard to instill. I do know that one day I will return to teach, but it will have to be high school students as I find college students to have issues.

It was interesting though to note, at least to myself, that many things have suffered in my life. I have not been able to continue studies since I left Bethlehem due to not enough time as one lived his job. Two my social life was suffering as I had none to this point. I spent all my available time in the office or at home working. If it's not work, it is research and trying new things. My personal relationships suffered the most and did not last either. Girls just got tired of competing with my work for time and attention. So this realisation was slowly creeping into my conscience.

Africa Centre for Health & Population Studies

I was impressed beyond description when the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies called me for an interview and payed for my flights and accommodation. This was the first time ever for such a thing to happen to me, and I looked forward to meeting them for a post as a Database Programmer. Even though I was going to Mtubatuba, a place I have never heard of before, their gestures intrigued me enough to want to see them. They picked me up from the airport in Richards Bay and put me in a nice guest house. Dinner and breakfast provided, what a treatment. In the morning all candidates were picked up and we went in the boardroom where introductions were made and how the interview would be conducted explained. The interview included both practical case studies and the usual pep talk. I was offered the job on the spot, contracts and all drawn and signed. They even offered for me to come back during December to spend about a week just to observe how they do things, they would pay for everything of course! I was really impressed and took the job.

I was to develop systems for the centre using Delphi, even though I had never used Delphi before. But I soon discovered it was no big deal as it was strikingly similar to Pascal. They paid for my travel costs to Mtubatuba in January and offered to pay for my relocation costs. They put me up in a guest house for three months while I searched for accommodation, at a very reasonable cost. This was a medical research facility and a very relaxed environment where people came to work in shorts. All they cared about really was getting the job done. Many studies were done here and it was one the first sites in South Africa for the anti-retro viral trials. I was amazed at how much I learnt about medical science in general from working with these doctors. My contract was for twelve months and they offered to renew for another twelve months but I respectfully declined. Mtubatuba is very far away from home, Johannesburg or Durban. It is about seven hours from home and Johannesburg. Two hours from Durban, so traveling outside this area is a trip that must be planned because it takes time. All conferences and seminars happen in Johannesburg, being that far away meant one cannot participate in these.

By this time I was getting tired of moving around, and I reckoned my experience is enough, so I needed to settle down. I reasoned that with my accumulated skills, I should only need to keep them current than learn new ones, so sticking with one company wouldn't hurt. I also desperately wanted to start school and this moving around between provinces was not helping. So I had to stay a reasonably long period where ever I may be going.

Telkom Directory Services

I joined Telkom Directory Services as an E-Systems Administrator in January of 2003. They were not going to pay my relocation costs and I had no accommodation in Johannesburg. So I spend the first month staying in a hotel. My work pretty much started immediately as there were so many things outstanding. This is where the value of my combined experiences came to play as my responsibilities were varied. I was responsible for e-business hardware infrastructure to ensure all was running accordingly. I was responsible for the online applications and their associated platforms. I was also to provide support to the business regarding e-business. I had a three months contract which was then converted to permanent employment.

The e-business environment here consisted of Yellow Pages, White Pages, a City Guide and I later established their corporate presence and intranet. They used a wide variety of technologies, fortunately I was familiar with all the technologies. Java, ASP and PHP were core technologies. Work was fun even though it usually involved long hours. Telkom had the tendency to falter with systems at midnight, and this meant work for me as I had to provide telephonic support to Telkom, failing which I must physically be present to sort the problems. I quickly established rapport with the business people and I was the key person regarding e-business and was involved in so many projects. After three years I moved into marketing as a Web Analyst/Marketer. Ten months later I was moved to a new division that had just been established, Online and Search. There wasn't much difference in what I was to do with what I used to do. But relations with the new boss were at best strained. We had worked together since late 2003, with me providing support functions to his division. I could afford to criticise him and fight with him since I did not report to him, and everybody was happy.

Until now that I had to report directly to him, and things started being a little bleak on my side. We were to establish the new division and grow it to the targets given by the board. There were four of us, including the head of the new unit. As I was involved with the plans, he seemed unsure what to do with me. My colleagues had jobs and titles in the new structures but I was a floating resource with no determinable future. My possible future responsibilities kept moving and this started worrying me. Plus the fact that there was no clear separation of responsibilities in our team. After 5 months of running a department, there is supposed to be some form of structure and direction. We were at the beginning of a major ERP project on which I was to be a key resource. But I took issue with having to work so hard and not having a role at the end of the project. So I found myself all of a sudden having to look outside for some form of certainty and I left in October of 2006. I had spend 46 months with the company and had hoped I would be there for at least seven years.

It is exactly at this point in my life when I realised that being good at what you do is not enough. When I realised that peoples careers and futures were determined based on how well liked you were and nothing else. It is here I realised that technical proficiency is a myth. People do well in jobs because of how well they maneuver the political ramblings. And I was really tired of looking for work and changing jobs. I was growing old too, and I needed stability in my life.

This also coninciding with my bad experiences at home due to a failed marriage. It was exactly at this time when I was separating with my wife.

Absa Group IT

I joined Absa as a contract Java Developer in November 2006 on a twelve months contract. When they hired me, I had a project to join that was already in progress and therefore my availability was crucial. I was to join a newly formed team that devised web services for the entire banking services. When I started work, I did not have a desk nor a computer to work on. I had to sit in the training room. And then I was supposed to go on training where I turned out to be the only candidate instead of the expected nine. This training was supposed to last a month but lasted two and a half months! Being the only student and doing things that turned out to have absolutely nothing to do with the work I will be doing. Being taught an architecture that was being phased out of the company and one I never saw in development or production.

The company was practically closed down in December, and here I was going to work to do this training. By ten every morning I would be bored stiff and didn't wish to be sitting in front of a pc. I remember in mid December one day I felt I have had enough and was quiting. With no one to tell I am quiting, I suppose then I was stuck. I remember in early January I was taking my younger brother to college for registrations and out of courtesy I started at work to tell my manager I would be in later. All he said was "I am not paying you for this." I know I was a contractor, it merely was an act of goodwill, so I took the rest of the day off even though I didn't need to. I have no work to do but you can't even acknowledge a professional courtesy. I got my first project mid January as part of a team, my happiness couldn't be measured. They showed me how they do things and allocated work to me. My work was complete in two days and I heard them say that the work must keep me busy for at least two weeks! Anyway, my part was done and in February I handed in my resignation. It was pure frustration considering how short resourced they were yet I sat with nothing to do. Only five months with them, the shortest period I have been with a company at that time.

South African Express Airways

In April I started with South African Express Airways as an Ecommerce Manager on a six month contract. They were looking for a permanent employee but during our negotiations I wasn't comfortable about this permanent stuff. So I suggested contracting initially for all parties to prove their worth and thereafter agree on a way forward. I was worried whether the job what what it was advertised to be. After my experiences, I was becoming real cautious with these things now. What I really wanted was to consult for them, plus I did not believe they needed an Ecommerce Manager. Having analysed their company and structure, they needed someone to assist them firstly to fix the technical problems with their booking platform. Secondly, they needed a person to focus exclusively on online sales. An Ecommerce Manager role goes far beyond these two aspects. Plus there were obvious clashes with their Direct Channels division. Roles were duplicated between the two functions. So my goal was to simply propose what needs to be done and help with implementing these projects.

The technical problems were taken care of, even though it took me longer than I would have liked due to difficulties with their supplier relations. The core functions of an Ecommerce Manager I was not able to carry out. Other than putting in place a strategy of what needs to be done and how, the roll out was near impossible. Despite the fact that the operational plans were approved, implementation proved illusive. There were now problems with Direct Channels as the manager there felt these fell under her control. Being newly hired herself, she was not even fully briefed on Ecommerce and its activities. So any sales/marketing effort was met with resistance. This despite the fact I did not need her approval for my line of work. But somehow I could no longer approve, sign or give a go ahead on a project without her approval. A lot of time was wasted on trying to get signatures and explanations why certain things have not been done yet. As a contractor, I have tangible deliverables within specific time frames, and this power mongering was affecting my mandate negatively. Then it came to the point where I was required to inform her on everything I was doing, including where I was going and who I was meeting. Well I did, or at least I tried, I had too much to loose if I fell short on my mandate.

Then projects started lagging as signatures could not be gathered, so and so is out of the office. Two months prior to my contract coming to an end, I resolved to conclude what I was hired to do as per my employment contract, whatever it takes. I sort of had two employment contracts, or shall I say one was a contract while another was an understanding. The people who employed me moved to other departments and the new manager had a different view of what ecommerce should do, a view I agreed with. Problem was he never came around to actually finalising what my role should be under his supervision, hence the clashes with direct channels. In situations like these you end up with clashes and no responsibilities because everyone disclaims liability. And so there was never any review done during the six months to ascertain if things were going according to contract and our understanding. To be honest, with so much interference, I just wanted to serve my term and leave peacefully because I was loosing patience. I made a commitment that my job shall be measured by my performance and nothing else, but under these circumstances things were getting out of hand. So I completed what I could and performed an assessment of my performance and submitted a report to my manager for, well comment or whatever. I just wanted the guy to know that my job I had done, even though I could have done more, I take pride in what I do.

I learnt that the new manager, direct channels, was hired without proper procedure and due diligence and that there was no budget for her salary. But she had been hired as a permanent employee and therefore it was not possible for my contract to be renewed in any form. As much as I did not care about internal politics, the least you expect from people is to at least be frank about matters. I was not really worried about them not renewing my contract, I was worried about my job. I had a job to do and that is all wanted to do in that period. Evaluate it, assess it, and let's talk about it. Do no make your problems mine and destroy a perfectly fine working relationship.

All I wanted to do, and what I did, when my contract ended was to go home and rest. Just sit at home resting, thinking and doing whatever people who don't work do. I spend the first two months just going where ever I felt like going. I did not want to think or worry about work in the foreseable future. I was enough, how much more can I endure in this world about work. Ten years working but eight companies! I have always maintained that my focus was on my work, being good at what I do and nothing else, but that does not seem to work. So I just wanted to forget about work for a while, and for the most part I did. I would go out for breakfast, no worry of being in the office. In November a recruitment agency convinced me to accept an offer at MTN as a Java Developer. I did and I only lasted a week and a half. That was a record to me. I was just tired of taking attitudes from white people on whom your performance is dependent. If I have work to do, and I am dependent on you to deliver but you keep telling me that you are too busy for me, how exactly am I going to get my job done? If supervisors and managers seemingly cannot assist in such a situation, I did not have the energy nor will for another office showoff of who wields power. So in the second week I told them no but thanks.

Sizwe Medical Solutions

I wasn't looking for work but an agency called about an offer at Sizwe Medical Solutions. I know the company and its history and still maintain there is great potential of what can be done to grow this company. Purely based on this belief, I agreed to talk to them. This was the worst company I have ever worked for, FNB included. I was supposed to be a systems analyst but it turns out I am a helpdesk support person! You answer and resolve calls till kingdom come. Management prefers to micro manage everything and everyone, irrespective of your position in the company. Firstly there were issues with my salary, I wasn't being paid what I was promised. Two, the flexibility they promised did not exist. I had to be in the office by eight every day no matter what. Getting in at 08:20 is big deal and you can't stay late to cover your time. You cannot be late coming from lunch. You cannot make private phone calls no matter what they are. When I took family responsibility leave due my mothers funeral, they demanded proof in the form of a death certificate! Where on earth have human relations gone to? So I told them to keep their job after only four months. Bra Eric Rantsho, you make us darkies ashamed of leadership. You just kill black talent and don't give a damn about black people, even though you yourself are black.

The Rest of Them Companies

I have been to Discovery Life and even started my own company. Own company is even messier due to administrative burdens and the realisation that many companies will never do business with a small black company, regardless of skill. And you learn that mostly its black managers who will not consider black business. And you learn about how small businesses falter due to procurement processes that put us at a disadvantage. Late payments and BEE score cards that fail despite your being black. It seems being black and starting a company is not enough, you must also strive to comply with BEE score cards that require many of you and participation of women. Talk about not being black enough. A lot of thinking happened and I decided to shut down my business, relinquish a number of domains I owned.

As I stand today, there are companies I will not work for in my life. Those that I consider black listed in my books. Among them are: FNB, MTN and Sizwe. I'll think hard before working for Discovery and SA Express Airways.

I spent only five months at Discovery Life as a Senior Java Developer. I spent two weeks at MTN as a Java Developer, the shortest time ever imaginable in my career to be with a company.

Avusa Media


My Shrewed Thoughts

As I sit today, now, without a job and not looking for one; I have had to consider and think about a number of things. What is it that I know besides software development and related tasks? Nothing. What other work can I do that would earn me in the same region as IT? None. I am faced with the dilemma: Do I continue working and doing a job that has taken so much from me and from which I have gained so little? Sitting at home has made me realise that my job as a software developer is redundant in my community as an Afrikan. Without big business, what exactly can I do with my skills to benefit from them or benefit them? Practically nothing. Yes, I can develop applications for local businesses, schools, municipalities. libraries and many other public institutions. But all these institutions do not make their own decisions about IT. Provincial governments take these decisions and provincial government will only work with big business, despite what politicians say. Local businesses are busy facing bankruptcy to even consider spending money on technology. The only worthwhile skill in IT is support as hardware and network support is abundant.

For the record, my skills are as follows: development(C/C++, Delphi, Java, Visual Basic, ColdFusion, ASP), project management, system administration(linux and solaris), management(web, marketing, strategy, product development).

Do I think I will continue investing time in this field of software development? Absolutely not. If I have to continue doing software development it will only be on a temporary basis until I can develop another skill on which I can make a living. I have always loved the arts, particularly literature, but this was ignored in favour of developing my technical skills. I have always written poetry and wished I could write short stories. It will take me a while to develop any of these skills to a level where I could depend on them. I beg to ask the question: Shouldn't we learn skills that are directly applicable and useful to our local communities? Isn't this what development is about? Many of us black folks have learnt trades that are of great use to white communities but are redundant at home.

As I sit here and write, November 2008, I look and wonder how my life would have turned should I have followed doing what I love doing. Yes, I may not have been able to earn as much, but at least I would have a life. Having a life is more important than making money. You could have money and still be unhappy. How can you enjoy your money if all you ever do is work and work?

Black Companies

In this tough environment of patronage and connections, have you noticed how unfairly black people are treated by black owned companies? Black people are generally expected to sacriface for the betterment of the business even though they have no stake in the business. That is exploitation at its best.

Empowered Companies

Well, empowered companies are just that, empowered. These are merely pipe dreams dreamt by politicians to feel good that they have done something to change the business landscape. Empowered companies are simply old companies with black faces to qualify them for state business. Black people have no stake in these companies and our politicians are happy with that.