Robin Lewis

Interview conducted in June 2018

I work at TCI Cape Town as a machinist.

I’m 28 years old and a single parent. I have a 3-year-old daughter named Alison.

Alison is a handful but I love her to bits. She’s like three children at once. She loves to paint and she enjoys school very much.

I am not together with Alison’s father, but he lives nearby us in Delft. He is still in Alison’s life.

I’m outgoing and love going out. I love movies. I love the story behind it. It’s also nice and relaxing. My favorite movie is Me Before You.

I was born in Manenberg and grew up there.

People are very rough there. You don’t want to walk outside. You must always stay inside.

I’m the oldest out of 6 children. It was like a madhouse growing up.

I enjoyed it though. It was nice actually. All of us are different and everyone has their own ways. We were very close. We still keep track of each other and phone each other all the time. There were so many of us that my parents had difficulty supporting the family.

They had to make many sacrifices.

My father, Andrew, worked at a furniture company called Tiddis Electric Place and my mother worked at Prima Toys. My mother, Charmaine, also used to do whatever she could to make extra money to feed us all. She used to make clothes to sell or sell food and takeaways.

When I was in high school, both of my parents became unemployed. I don’t remember why they lost their jobs, but it was a very difficult time. We often didn’t have anything to eat. I used to help my aunt to clean the house just to have something to eat.

When I began college, I moved in with my aunt and uncle in Delft. It was too far and too expensive to travel from my parents’ in Manenberg. It took three different taxis and over an hour. From my aunt and uncle’s house in Delft, it only took half an hour. I studied Educare at Northlink College. Educare involves both education and business so that you can learn how to open up your own crèche. I wanted to open a crèche because I love children. They always say such funny things.

I had to leave school in 2007.

The traveling took too long and was too expensive. My aunt and uncle used to pay the taxi fee. But, when my aunt and uncle’s grandchild was born, they needed the money to help support her. They only made money through a tuck shop, so they didn’t have the money for my taxi anymore. I was very sad that I could not finish, but I understood.

I decided to keep living with my aunt and uncle even after leaving school. I was used to them and comfortable with them.  My aunt’s name is Ellen and my uncle’s name is Peter. They are very funny people. Sometimes when you’re down or sad, they just come out of the blue and make you smile and laugh. And they always listen to what you are saying. Also Delft is safer than Manenberg. Delft is still very dangerous, but better than Manenberg. Sometimes people can be very cruel.

In the house is my aunt, uncle, their three children—Jene, Dudley, and Brandon—my grandma who’s 89 years old, and my daughter. Jene’s two children also live in the house. They are 4 and 3 years old. She also had another child who passed away in 2008. He was very sick. He died of an asthma attack. It was a very sad time for our family.

Both my aunt and uncle are pensioners. One cousin works as a taxi driver, the other is a Woolworth’s cashier, and the other is unemployed.

In 2009, I started working for BIbette.

I learned about the job through a friend. I was very excited to get the job. I was excited to learn new things every day. I started as a line feeder.

Burbette closed in 2015. The people at Burbette told me about positions at TCI, so I started working at TCI. I didn’t mind moving. I got to meet new people and do new things. I began as a line feeder at TCI as well. But my supervisor saw that I was a hard worker. He believed I could do more and promoted me. He told me “I know you can do it” and helped me get training to be a machinist. I wanted something new and was happy with the promotion.

To be a good machinist, you need speed and communication. Communication among workers, and between us and the supervisors. That is very important.

The supervisors stress you out sometimes though.

They don’t think about quality, just production. But they always come back with repairs if they’re not done well. Repairs are the worst part of the job and the quality suffers.

It’s a 30-minute taxi to work. I get up a 5 and get home at half past 5.

I received R850 a week as a line feeder, after deductions. Now that I am a machinist, I receive R1000 after deductions. I pay R250 a week for rent to my aunt and I pay R150 a week for my daughter’s crèche fees. It costs R120 a week for travel. I take the taxi to work every day. Most of my groceries are purchased by my aunt. I save R250 through TCI and I spend the rest of the money tor whatever is needed. Maybe fruits, toiletries.


I’m trying to save up to have my own space and place.

It’s pretty cramped living with my aunt, uncle, cousins, grandma, and daughter. We have one room. When we watch a movie, someone will always come in or have to leave. My goal is to have my own place by the end of the year.

My parents are doing fine. My father just got a three-month contract for construction. My brother is also in construction and building and he helps support them. I try to give sometimes when I have enough, but I have my own daughter to worry about too. My brother also helps to support our three siblings who are still in school.

To be honest, in five years, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to say that, but my dream is to be a nurse. I love working with people and helping people. But if I stay here, I stay here, and sampling would be my goal if that was the case.

My dream for my daughter is to see her go further than myself.

I want her to study whatever it is that she wants to become. I don’t think I’d like to see her in the garment industry. But if she must be in the garment industry, she must. Sometimes it is the only option.

We are expected to produce 600 Mandela t-shirts a day and about 100 t-shirts an hour. At the end of the week, we have a million done. We’ve seen it so much we’re tired of it! But it’s nice working on such an important shirt. If I see someone in the street wearing a Mandela shirt, I’ll nod and tell them, “I made that!” It’s exciting.

I am happy that I am learning something new every day and meeting nice people.

I am happy that I have work to support my daughter. I work for my daughter. I am happy having people that love me around. 


Interviewed by Lisa Petersen, Lily Koning and Sheridan Wilbur in June 2018