Spare a thought for Jonas

Come rain or snow, Jonas Lechaba will always show! Is that not the golden rule of every postman?

“Well, it’s mostly true,” says Jonas. “I deliver in all kinds of weather — but you will never catch me working in the rain. When it rains in the township the roads turn to mud. You can ride a bicycle nearly everywhere — but bicycles get stuck in mud.”

Jonas Lechaba has been a postman for a long time. He started working at the Jeppe Post Office way back in 1969. His first job was delivering telegrams. In 1971 he was sent to work at the Jabulani Post Office in Soweto.

HOUSE TO HOUSE

“In Soweto I became a real postman, delivering post from house to house on a bicycle,” says Jonas. “I started delivering in Jabulani township first. Then I delivered in Naledi, then Moletsane, then Emdeni, then Zondi — now I am delivering in Zola. I can say that I know Soweto like the back of my hand.”

Jonas starts work at seven in the morning. He starts by sorting out letters which belong in the same street. This makes it easy when delivering.

After sorting the letters, Jonas packs them in a bag. Then he loads them in the front carry—box of his bicycle. Then he is ready to hit the streets of Zola township. He works quickly — he has to deliver post to about 500 houses everyday.

“Most houses have got letter boxes,” says Jonas. “If there is no letter box, we put the letter safely on the gate. I never go into a yard to deliver a letter. We are not allowed to. If we go into a yard and a dog bites us, the post office will not pay medical expenses.”

Talking of dogs, Jonas will tell you that for postmen, dogs are not man’s best friend. They are the postman’s worst enemy. “Most of us have been bitten by dogs at one time or another,” says Jonas. “Once, when I was putting letters into a postbox, a dog jumped up and bit my hand. I did not see the dog tied to the postbox pole. Luckily there was a clinic nearby.”

Jonas has been bitten by so many dogs that he can now tell if a dog is dangerous. Jonas, like most other postmen, can tell if a bark will be followed by a bite — or if it will be followed by a wet kiss.

A HARD TIME

If dogs are Jonas’ biggest problem, their owners are the second biggest problem. People in the township give Jonas and his friends a hard time.

“One day I went inside a shop and when I came out my bicycle was gone. I sat there and waited for about twenty minutes. Then a young boy came with it. I asked him why he took the bicycle. He told me he was just testing it.

“Another time I was chased by fierce dogs in Zola. I was riding at such a speed that I could have been fined for speeding. I rode over a hole and letters flew in all directions. I could not stop because the dogs were still chasing me. When I came back later to fetch the letters, I found them lying in the road. Nobody picked them up. They just stood there and laughed.”

Jonas says that many of his friends have been injured by cars and taxis in the township. “With taxis and cars you have to be very careful. These people hoot when they are just a short distance away from you — and this confuses us and cause accidents.

“They do not care about us because we are riding bicycles. They forget that we are working. Many people think of us as a joke. They do not think of us as workers doing a serious jobs.

“In the old days some people even used to call us ‘mpimpis’. They thought that we were spies for the government because we were working for the post office. But now they have stopped that. They now call us ‘frankies’. I do not know what that means but it sounds better than ‘mpimpi’.”

A UNION FOR POSTMEN

Jonas does not only have problems with the people. There are of course also problems at work. For this reason he is a member of the trade union. The union is called Post and Telecommunication Workers Union. (POTWA)

“Potwa started organising post office workers in January last year. In just four months most workers at the Post Office had joined our union. In April this year workers in the depot at Power Park made their first demands.

“They wanted free transport home because they knock off late. There are no taxis to take them home and Soweto is not safe at night. Management answered by firing them. When we heard this, other depots went on strike as well.

“We came up with more demands. We wanted our working conditions to be improved. Management thought that because our union was new, we would give up the fight if the strike lasted a long time. But we did not. In the end we won free transport for our comrades and our working conditions were improved.

“We went on strike at the beginning of August again. This time we wanted equality between black and white workers who do the same job. We also demanded that messengers and Grade 1 and 2 workers be paid a minimum wage of R450.00.

“This strike went on for a long time. During the strike we held meetings at places like Regina Mundi and the Funda Centre in Soweto as well as Khotso House in town. We explained to people why we were on strike.

“People supported us. They knew that we were not only fighting for ourselves, but also for those who will one day work in the post office.

“This strike lasted until September when we won our demands. Now messengers and Grade 1 and 2 workers have got their increases. We agreed with management that we postmen and other post office workers will get our increases next year.”

THE GOOD TIMES

But for Jonas, life as a postman is not only getting bitten by dogs, being laughed at by people, and fighting for his rights with his comrades in the union. At times he does enjoy his job.

“Sometimes people say thank you or they just give me a smile. This means a lot to me. It shows that some people are thankful for the job we do. This makes me like my job.

“Sometimes when it is really hot somebody will invite me in for a quick cool drink and a piece of cake. And in winter, somebody who knows me will invite me to come and sit by the ‘mbawula’ to get warm. I will stay for about five minutes because I am working. But just looking at those people warming themselves outside makes you want to spend the whole day in front of the mbawula.

“Another guy I know has just invited me to his Christmas party. He knows me because I always bring him a letter or two. Maybe I bring him good news and that is why he has invited me.

There are also other good things about being a postman — like keeping fit and having legs that can kill an elephant with one kick. Jonas’ strong legs have helped him out of trouble more than once — like the time he met some people on the way home from a stokvel.

“It was early in the morning,” says Jonas. “The people took out pangas and came towards me. I am sure they wanted to rob or injure me. Anyway, I didn’t wait to find out. I ran so fast I even surprised myself. It sure pays to have strong legs.”

There was just one more question to ask Jonas. What about all the stories of postman meeting lots of bored and beautiful women while their husbands are at work?

“That’s nonsense,” says Jonas with a laugh. “Most women do not want to be seen with a guy who rides a bicycle. They prefer the guys who drive cars. And anyway, I’m a married man who does not have time for such things. I’ve got letters to deliver.”

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