What was meant to be a life-changing opportunity for a group of 400 young people from Mpumalanga and Limpopo has turned out be a nightmare.
The youngsters, who took part in the Exxaro Youth Exponential Development (YDx) programme, were left high and dry after the project ran out of money.
The YDx project, which was carried out by the SA Digital Content Organisation (Sadico) and sponsored by Exxaro to the tune of R40 million, was initially designed to train young people in communities where Exxaro operates in digital technology and fourth industrial revolution concepts, but the beneficiaries of the project say it has failed to live up to its hype.
“I joined this programme last year and we were trained as trainers, given a 12-month contract, and paid R4 500 and given R500 airtime monthly. But the problem started in January when Sadico stopped paying us the stipends,” said one of the participants, Jabulani Rakwena.
“We took the matter to Exxaro, since they are the ones who funded the YDx programme to help us, and they said they will do an audit at Sadico, but we haven’t heard anything regarding the audit.
It seems like the poor youth were sold an empty dream and false hope.”
He alleged that the 400 participants, who were now largely unemployed, were used by Sadico to get money from Exxaro under the pretence that they were empowering them to be active participants in the economy and tackle socioeconomic issues in their communities.
“My question is, since they were given R40 million, why didn’t they put aside the money for the stipends since they knew that was what they signed up for with the pupils – that they would give them stipends for 12 months? It seems like they are using the training as [a front].”
Rakwena further stated that, if Sadico claimed to have done more training, they should have provided evidence to prove this and also have disclosed how much they had spent by providing invoices.
“In Steve Tshwete and Emakhazeni, we did most of the training. They must just say when we will get paid because right now they are quiet and no longer updating us on the stipends issue. They are no longer answering our calls and WhatsApp messages.”
Another participant, Thulani Thukwana, said that when the project started there were “well-thought-out” plans that Sadico was going to implement, but, as time went by, serious challenges were encountered as the project ran out of money, which led to Sadico coming up with countless excuses.
“In March, the story changed – they said that they were waiting for international funds that needed to be cleared by the SA Reserve Bank.
“Then, in May, we were told that the funds were cleared, but they were waiting for Exxaro auditors to give them the go-ahead so they could start paying everyone.
“But things went from bad to worse when Sadico stopped giving weekly reports about progress regarding the unpaid stipends, and we were blocked on the WhatsApp group to stop us from asking about the unpaid stipends,” said Thukwana.
However, the Sadico board of directors has rejected this, saying there were unforeseen expenses that made it necessary to deviate from the original budget.
In explaining the situation, the chief executive officer of Sadico, Linda Khumalo, said the YDx Project started running out of funds in December and the actual cost turned out to be R9 million more than they had initially budgeted for.
Khumalo said some of the expenses that swallowed up the budget included items that were not part of the initial plan.
“During the programme, the youth requested more training than what was initially planned for. We had to continue addressing their further training needs so that they could reach their desired level of competency and expertise.
“It is worth noting at this stage that almost all of them were unemployed at the time. They had never worked before in their lives, especially in the difficult technology space.
“We had to put them in one place so that training could be much more effective and more manageable than it would have been had they been placed in various parts of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. So, instead of one camp, we created a minimum of three.”
He said that, as a result, travelling and accommodation expenses had kept rising due to various unforeseen initiatives that they had participated in. Khumalo explained that this had been reported to Exxaro, which, as per normal good governance protocols and procedures, had been performing an audit on these expenses.
Exxaro said it was unable to comment as it was still engaging with Sadico.