Days of hoping and waiting

2013-03-01 00:00

THE worst thing that can happen to a living soul is being unemployed. Firstly, it means partial independence or none at all. Temptations are limitless. Imagine waking up late every day with plenty of time, but no purpose in your life. No hurry at all, just a free spirit forced to roam aimlessly along the township streets, searching for something to lay those idle hands on, to try to make a decent living.

Your day probably starts at breakfast when everyone has left for their respective places of commitment. You peel back a heavy layer of blankets to check if the sun is shining. Then you are off to the nearby tuck shop for a cigarette that you purchase with loose change from the bread money. Together with your other fellow loafers, you share the smoke as per the township camaraderie motto.

While there, rumour reaches your ears that someone is recruiting youths for a service-delivery demonstration. You register instantly. You have no choice. This is a legal route to break into shops and loot provisions. Officially, your day has begun. After browsing the job section in the daily newspaper, you might decide to go job hunting. At home you have breakfast. Afterwards you do the household chores, since yours are the only free hands.

It has been unanimously agreed that no maid will be hired until you secure a decent job. It has been a long time. In the meantime, you stick to the prescribed routine without fail. Any failure is to your disadvantage. After the daily duties, you feel thirsty. A beer is needed to quench it, but money is obviously limited. The persuasion, however, overpowers you. Pinching some forgotten items to trade at the market, you make the short trip. “I will give you R200. That’s all. Take it or leave it,” the buyer insists. You reluctantly accept. You return to your friends at the tavern, who all look at you with glee at your parents’ kindness.

“You are a lucky guy. You are given an allowance to spend, although you are not working. I wish I was you, my man,” the praise goes on in anticipation of another round of beers. Without any further persuasion, you dutifully purchase another round. “My parents are an understanding people. They always assist me when I am in need,” you lie to maintain the praise. The booze flows on until the wee hours. From now on you are alone to face your parents, who without doubt will be waiting. A tirade of accusations will soon follow.

The conclusion always ends with: “We will send you to your grandmother in the village.” But on that day it is different. “If you don’t change your attitude we will call the police. Then you will spend the rest of your young life in prison, if you are not careful,” the stern warning rings. It persists: “We did not send you to school to laze around the townships. Unemployment is not a curse. Do something useful for yourself.” The only thing stopping you from joining the local gang is the lack of connections, nothing else. Subsequently, you will not blame the neighbours for suspecting you when their possessions suddenly disappear.

The next day you get an exact allowance for transport to that interview. You are early and eager, but already a thousand other candidates have gathered. Seeing this, you decide to go home. Your frustration leads you to a tavern, to down your fading hopes. At the tavern you meet with a guy who claims to be a foreman at an established construction company. After a round of beers, he lays out his rescue plan to you.

“You are a nice guy. I will certainly do something for you. Soon you will be working and making a living for yourself.” With that in mind you shower him with more beers, with a promise to land one of the most paying jobs. After that meeting, he promises to contact you very soon with some good news. That was the end of it; another empty promise. Still you keep your faith intact of finding an opening one day. Although you obviously admire girls, dating is not one of your pastimes, in case you trespass the pleasure boundaries and make someone pregnant. Then you will know what trouble really means. Teenage pregnancy, crime and unemployment are an unholy union.

The paper’s vacancy section is a favourite for clear reasons, although it leaves a sad feeling of defeat. You ask yourself: if all employers require people with experience, then where will the inexperienced get the experience from? One daily advert has caught your attention though. The company is recruiting youths as waiters for a fee. With zeal to appease your parents, you try your luck. When you try to contact them they are not reachable.

The next day’s breaking news is gloomier. Another local clothing factory has shut its doors. Soon, the streets will be packed with more job seekers, meaning more competition, and more friends to share a beer with, probably. It is not unusual for a retrenched worker to commit suicide. At least you are used to the routine.

• Derick Matsengarwodzi is a freelance writer.

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