“Have you called Mr Mlambo yet?” Zamani asks, trying to be polite.
The receptionist at the Department of Public works looks at him, rolls her eyes and exhales, moving the telephone receiver from her ear to her shoulder.
“Listen,” she says, then hesitates. “What did you say your name was again?”
“Zamani. Zamani Ndlovu. I told you my name when I came in two hours ago. You even wrote it down. I have an appointment with Mr Mlambo.”
“Yes, Zamani Ndlovu. Listen, you need to relax. Mr Mlambo will be in when he is in. He doesn’t want to be disturbed.”
“It’s just that I’m worried because it’s already an hour and a half past the set appointment time. Just check on him, at least.”
The receptionist nods nonchalantly, eyes heavy with condescension. “I get you. But take some advice from a lowly receptionist. In order to fit in here you have to listen to what I’m telling you. Here you must learn to relax. That is–”
“Can you check on Mr Mlambo, please,” Zamani cuts her off. “Maybe he forgot. Maybe another inspector is supposed to take me for orientation.”
The receptionist rolls her eyes, shakes her head, returns the receiver to her ear and casually continues her conversation on the telephone. He can tell by her hushed voice and bursts of laughter that she is definitely not on a work-related call.
Zamani is nervous. Today is the start of a new chapter in his young life. It’s his first day at the Department of Public Works in Durban and he wants nothing to go wrong. After sending out hundreds of job applications, the interview for the post of junior site inspector was the only one he was called to. Zamani felt it deep inside his bone marrow, as sweaty nervousness trickled down his back during the interview, that this job was his.
Mlambo, the chief site inspector, breezes in an hour later. He completely ignores Zamani, grunts a “Hello” to the receptionist and disappears into the office behind her desk. Zamani is hungry. He didn’t have time to eat breakfast and his stomach grumbles when he looks out of the window. A woman at a boerewors roll stand across the road is taking a large bite from a roll.
An impatient hand taps Zamani’s shoulder. Mr Mlambo is next to him, holding a page in his hand.
“Read this for me!” says Mlambo. “I left my reading glasses in the car.”
Zamani takes the paper. The font is tiny; it is a printout of an email.
“Dear Mr Mlambo–”
“Forget that,” Mlambo juts in. “Just read the highlighted part.”
Zamani squints and starts again.
“The site inspection report on the progress of the storm-damaged Power neighbourhood in Umlazi Township is still outstanding. Now, I do not need to tell you how sensitive this matter is. I expect–”
“Enough!” says Mlambo. “Where are you from?”
“I live in Pinetown.”
“Did you bring your driver’s license?”
“Okay, suburban boy,” Mlambo smirks. “Let’s go. I’ll show you the township.”
Mlambo is quiet in the car. Zamani is thinking of what to say to break the ice with his superior. Soccer, he thinks, everybody loves soccer. But before he can speak Mlambo’s phone rings. He looks at the screen and smiles before he answers, waving a hand at Zamani to turn left towards Power.
Mlambo is getting tense with the caller. “You won’t get any more jobs if there are more delays in getting my money! You owe me…” He drops the call and indicates for Zamani to pull over on a road bordering the part of Power that is flood-damaged. The floods have destroyed many homes and in places steep slopes of the area have been washed away. New houses are under construction on a building site. The land is steep, and the houses cling to the slopes.
“Take a walk around the site and write a report on the progress,” says Mlambo, punching numbers into his phone.
Zamani wants to ask questions, but he doesn’t say a word when he sees the rage in Mlambo’s eyes.
Tell us: Mlambo doesn’t make any effort to hide his corruption from Zamani. Why might this be?