Inside Labour: The jobless youth bomb is ticking

 Terry Bell. Picture: Supplied
Terry Bell. Picture: Supplied

The almost meaningless display of verbal pyrotechnics that annually accompanies the matric results is thankfully behind us. But the reality of 700 000-plus potential school-leaving jobseekers is most definitely not.

Along with double that number who dropped out before Grade 12, they highlight the most volatile element in South Africa.

Young, angry, jobless and with little prospect of rising beyond rural penury or the squalid shacklands of urban settlements, they constitute an additional charge to an already ticking time bomb of discontent. This is the biggest threat to instability that faces South Africa as we enter fully into 2017.

At least, as this year dawned, there were more than a few voices on the margins who pointed out what a farce this fetish about matric results – that tends to obscure briefly the reality of poor schooling and jobless futures – truly is.

This is especially pertinent in a country that has not dealt seriously with early childhood education, let alone adult basic education and training.

The simple fact of the influx of a new mass of school-leavers into an already saturated job market is enough to illustrate the difficulties in the way ahead. But there are many more, not the least of which is the ongoing economic crisis that has given rise to a degree of political instability globally that is historically probably unparalleled.

However, amid all the doom and gloom, peppered with the usually facile comments by politicians and economists about “turning the corner”, there are many examples of bravery, heroism, compassion, dedication and solidarity – actions that keep the flame of hope burning.

Around the world, working people, organised and unorganised, have suffered greater insecurity, wage stagnation and rising unemployment for more than a decade.

Yet, many remain remarkably resilient.

Some of these cases I hope to illustrate over the coming year as examples of how – despite often tremendous odds – working people have dealt with adversity and exploitation.

Many of these incidents never make the news, let alone the headlines, but they are inspiring, although sometimes gut-wrenchingly sad.

One such case came to my attention as 2016 drew to an end: that of several hundred former Midrand municipality workers who have been fighting, without attendant publicity, for jobs and their pensions for 22 years.

Most of the survivors — 55 have died over the years — meet every Sunday to pool their resources and to plan what to do next.

In a peculiar twist to this tale of tenacity, the head of the financial services company handling municipal employee pension funds is the same man who was the human resources and labour relations manager at Midrand when the workers were dismissed.

Kamani Ernest Letjane founded Akani Retirement Fund Administrators in 2000.

Last month, the workers delivered a memorandum of their demands to Akani and lodged an appeal with Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba.

Documentary evidence and a timeline of their struggle make for a compelling case, but it was impossible to get responses over the holiday period from all of those involved.

If and when the emailed queries from Inside Labour are responded to, this important tale will be finally and fully told.

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