Mixed-race couple victimised

Simon Nare

Simon Nare

They met and fell in love. But it was at the wrong place though at the right time.

Goods train assistant driver Grace Matodzi said she never imagined that she would be victimised by her own people for being in love with a white man in a democratic South Africa.

Matodzi met the love of her life, whom she prefers to only call Hannes, a white train driver, when the two were paired together in 2003.

She refused to reveal his surname for fear that he might be victimised.

The two fell in love while on a trip to Vereeniging. Four years later, their love for each other is stronger than ever.

This despite harassment from senior managers - white and black.

Though her lover is still going strong and brushes aside constant harassment, Matodzi has cracked and has even asked time off.

"I am too stressed and we have been advised not to work in the train under such conditions. I can't stand it anymore. They are making my life at work unbearable," said Matodzi.

"The painful thing is that our love and private lives have nothing to do with them. We are being attacked from both white and black senior managers who are against our relationship.

"One white manager even started spreading a rumour that I was once gang-raped at a party by HIV-positive people.

"They thought Hannes was going to desert me, but instead his love for me grew even stronger."

She reported the matter to the human resources department but nothing happened.

Matodzi claims that she also complained about other acts of misconduct by the section manager.

Matodzi says she should have qualified as a driver after two years, as is the norm. But after six years, she is still an assistant. She suspects this is because she is dating Hannes.

Train drivers who joined after her have since qualified. She claims no sound reasons had been given to her.

"Even people who have shockingly bad records have qualified. I'm talking about people who have been tested and found under the influence of alcohol before boarding the train," she said.

A close friend of the couple said Matodzi's lover is not being spared, even by his white brothers.

"They are just a bunch of racists who are jealous that he is happily in love with Matodzi.

"They say a lot of horrible things behind his back," said the friend.

Transnet Freight Rail spokesman Molatwane Lekethe said the company had noted her concerns and would investigate.

"For the record, Transnet Freight Rail does not believe in any form of discrimination on the basis of colour, religion, race or gender," said Lekethe.

"In fact this company has very specific programmes such as Relationships on Track in place, aimed at dealing with or rooting out any form of discrimination or victimisation in the workplace."

In regard to Matodzi's allegations of being denied the opportunity to graduate to train driver, Lekethe said all employees were eligible for promotion but they follow a selection policy.

Employees have to be assessed first after applying and compete with other candidates.

"This is one of the best ways of ensuring fairness to all employees interested in any available position.

"Any candidate or employee who qualifies will get the position, but should there be any candidate who suspects that the process followed was unfair and unprocedural, such candidate or candidates have a right to appeal," he said.