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Tsheleku finds passport to bigger things

31 Aug 2023

It’s almost impossible not to notice Onalenna Tsheleku.

In knee-high white gumboots, greasy worn-out blue overalls, a hoodie and a yellow hard hat, the 32-year-old native of Middlepits stands tall against a JCB earth-moving machine at the Tsabong Multispecies Abattoir construction site.  

There is heightened activity on site as men and women race against time to complete the abattoir slated to be handed over this month.

I can hear all sorts of noises – a high pitched screeching of an angle grinder, the whirring of the drill making a hole in the concrete and the hammer beating against the stones producing not only a sharp and loud thud, but a popping and cracking sound as well.

These are the daily activities as different tradesmen put their expertise to work to bring to life the P162 million state-of-the- art structure, which is gradually taking shape.

I spot an outstanding and youthful Tsheleku, who has been involved with the abattoir construction since its genesis.

He effortlessly recalls the date – 15th February 2021 – when he formed part of the first set of eight employees to be called to site, in time to begin the construction work. He was aged 28.

Armed only with a Junior Certificate and experience from holding numerous temporary jobs since enlisting with Department of Labour and Social Security in 2010 to carry out labour work in government departments, he was elated to be part of the starting team.

“This is my first good paying job where I have even risen through the ranks within a short space of time,” he says with a smile.

The soft spoken Tsheleku says the deciding moment was the day he received a call from Labour office to go to the Tsabong showgrounds.

At the time he was in the dark as to what he was about to be involved in.

All he knew was that there was a job to be done and he was ready since he needed to put bread on the table.

“The ground was plain with only sand and a few trees on site, and we worked as a team to make the giant building rise from the ground,” he relates.

“We started off eight in number, which included a plumber, a store lady, an administration officer and general assistants.

Then our numbers kept growing.”

Since he had no formal qualification, Tsheleku started off as general assistant (labourer) mixing concrete and carrying out any other general duties assigned to him.

He carried out each task with vigour, care and diligence, which saw him graduate to a more challenging job assuming the responsibility to understudy an experienced steel fixer.

“I was elated to finally leave concrete mixing, jaanong ke sa tlhole ke duba taka,” he says with a smile.

His passion for work caught management’s eye, who then elevated him to the next level as the project progressed.

“I began to work with the steel fixer to put together mesh wire for the rim beam; it was an exciting yet challenging job,” he says.

He was eager to work with experienced steel fixer Onalerona Thabo, who hails from Tswapong.

Thabo upskilled the young Tsheleku in steel fixing and they still work together to date.

Tsheleku says as his level of responsibility increased, his salary rate also continued to improve.

He started off earning P1 800 per month as general assistant, and within three months he was at P4 000 and then P4 800, where he currently sits.

The earnings enabled him to complete his mother’s two-bedroomed house in Middlepits, which he finished off from window level.

“I am happy that when we complete the abattoir this month  I will have gained professional skills, and my profile will be enhanced. I can now go to a brigade to certify my skills. I am grateful that now I can move to the cities and towns to look for better employment opportunities,” he said.

He aspires to become a heavy plant operator.

In fact big machines fascinate him.

He uses his lunch hour profitably, often asking the earth-moving machine’s operator, Justice Bashime from Tati Siding to teach him.

Tactical in his approach, Tsheleku first befriended Bashime, getting to spend his lunch breaks with him, eventually getting the old hand to show him how to operate the machine to a point where he could manoeuvre it on his own.

“We made it an underground discrete operation which I knew would land me in hot soup if I was caught. However, soon management got to discover what we were up to. I was scared after our secret was uncovered.

However, they turned out to be supportive and encouraged me to continue to learn and get licensed as an operator,” he says adding that he is allowed to operate the machine only in a safe environment.

He says the construction of Tsabong Multispecies Abattoir has been transformative for the lives of a lot of unskilled construction workers in this catchment area.

Many have gained useful skills that will help them beyond this project, and he appreciates government for bringing the mega facility to Tsabong district.

The site manager, Buckley Molefe, who works for the project’s sub-contractor – Agri Holdings Botswana – proudly states that the abattoir is constructed by a company wholly-owned by citizens and the work at the site was all done by Batswana.

“We have had 60 employees since the abattoir started, 12 of them being women.

Seventy per cent of the employees come from Tsabong District as local empowerment, while the rest come from outside the district, brining specialised training such as steel fixers, machine operators of equipment such as excavators, graders, concrete mixer, batch plant, and tipper trucks,” he says.

Molefe is impressed with the work ethic on site and expresses a lot of confidence in the team’s capabilities.

“This project would not have been possible if it was not for Batswana working hard day and night. Everybody performed exceptionally well,” he says.

“Obviously, there are always instances where as a leader or a supervisor you have to exert a bit of pressure on someone to get them to perform to their full potential, but such challenges are to be found in every project. The good part here is that they listen and do the work,” he says.

He talks fondly of Tsheleku, who is one of the many employees who came in as general assistants without any skills and was empowered to gain certain skills in some areas.

“He came as a general assistant and can now operate one of the machines. He is also a steel fixer and he is now part of the semi-skills batch,” he says.

“Batswana working together as a team have transformed plain land into an abattoir as you can see.”

With work now revolving around the finishing touches, Tsheleku confidently operates the heavy plant vehicle to help build a new access road that leads to the abattoir. ENDS

Source : BOPA

Author : Calviniah Kgautlhe

Location : TSABONG


Date : 31 Aug 2023