Young, jobless and desperate – When hope dies, you turn to dice

2012-06-09 15:59

In Wesselton township in Mpumalanga province’s Ermelo, the streets are teeming with youngsters. Many gather at the local shopping centre in Everest extension in search of some kind of entertainment.

The shops in Everest extension sell the favourite kasi (township) take-aways of fish and chips, kota (a hollowed-out quarter loaf of bread filled with chips, atchar and polony), and, of course, all sorts of liquor.

In the potholed parking lot littered with broken booze bottles, small groups huddle around cars with open boots.

Contemporary house, kwaito and hip-hop hits are blaring from every direction and the youths constantly dig into their cooler boxes for beer and cider.

Among them is 30-year-old Dumisane Mahaye, who has an N3 qualification as electrician but earns a living running illegal dice games. A former community activist turned drug dealer and now gambler, every day Mahaye finds a quiet spot and starts a game of dice.

Mahaye is a knoxman, which means he has exclusive rights to bring the dice and choose the playing area. He gambles with the rest of the punters but earns a commission of about R10 from the winner of each round.

The father of a five-year-old has never been formally employed. He finished matric in 2002 and went to the local Gert Sibande FET College, which he graduated from with an N3 certificate.

In reality the certificates have no value for Mahaye, who makes up to R2?000 on a good day running the gambling school.

This is not his first illegal venture. He previously sold whoonga (a mixture of heroin and dagga) but gave up because of the heat it drew.

“I used to sell whoonga, but I stopped in 2010 because police had become stricter because of the World Cup,” Mahaye says.

He has a stack of R200 notes in his pockets, and says he makes enough money to send his child to preschool and has even built two furnished rooms at the back of his parents’ house.

“It’s not good money that I make here, but I can survive. Most unemployed people don’t have the clothes and things I have. I can send my kid to preschool and give some incentives to police,” Mahaye says.

“When police swoop on us here they ask for the knoxman. You have to pay ‘bail’ here and now to avoid being charged.”

Mahaye would rather work as an electrician but has given up applying after years of rejection.

“I applied to companies like Eskom and Spoornet. The painful thing here is that you are called to write an aptitude test, which is written with a pencil, and they erase your name to give your marks to another person. Sometimes they say they’ll come back to you after 14 days and they don’t,” Mahaye says. He said he applied for 16 jobs in three years, including positions at nearby coal mines, but without any success. “I realised that perhaps it wasn’t meant to be and I gave up searching,” Mahaye says. He was among the group of disgruntled youth who threatened local companies and the Msukaligwa municipality with violent protests against the exclusion of locals from job opportunities at the nearby mines. Mahaye was also among the instigators of violent service delivery protests that engulfed Wesselton township for a week last year. He was arrested but the charge was dropped. “There’s no question about this – I need a job. Age is not on my side and I will need something stable to secure my future,” he says. “Illegal gambling is a crime and I obviously feel bad, but the situation forces me to make a plan to survive.”

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