COLUMN | Every generation has a struggle, ours is joblessness

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Young people are desperate and begging for work just to put food on the table.
Young people are desperate and begging for work just to put food on the table.

I will never forget how heartbroken I was on that day.

I was scrolling through social media on my phone and I came across an image that summed up the unemployment crisis South Africa is drowning in. It broke my heart.

An image of a young man wearing a black graduation gown at work. Underneath, blue overalls could be seen. He was at work, wheeling dustbins from people’s front lawns into a truck.

What other option is there? Being a graduate in this country doesn’t give you the privilege of getting a job you studied for.

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Don't get me wrong. There is no shame working as a refuse collector, a cashier, a cleaner or any other odd job for that matter. 

It puts bread on the table. Moreover, it is the kind of job most black parents had when they put their children through school.

It is the story of many black children, raised by domestic workers and security guards, who have sacrificed their whole lives so that their kids do not go through the struggles they had to go through.

Here we are today, witnessing the cycle of black people’s struggles play out. Stats SA published its latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QFLS). It says 74.7 % of young people in our country are unemployed.

"It is the story of many black children, raised by domestic workers and security guards, who have sacrificed their whole lives so that their kids do not go through the struggles they had to go through."

I dread the thought of Youth Month. What exactly are we celebrating? 

On 16 June 1976, about 20 000 students embarked on a protests against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools. It became known as the Soweto Uprising. But have we seen the fruits of their fight? 

It almost feels like black children are there to exist in lack. What do I mean by this? We don't get born into the soft life and have everything just work out. 

We see it everyday, young people desperately standing in street corners with their qualifications, diplomas, degrees, masters alike - begging for work.

This is not to racialise the crisis but numbers don't lie. The unemployment rate among black Africans is 36,7% which remains higher than the national average and other population groups. For white people it is 8.1%, it's 14,9% for Indian people and coloured people 25,5%.

All these numbers are too much and I witness the devastation of unemployment daily. 

I live in a township. Here you'll find many young people who spend days wanting to change the trajectory of their lives and that of their families by working hard and being relentless in their pursuit of making an honest living. 

These aren’t just numbers. These are lives, families, communities - this is a society in crisis. 

Street corners are full of young women and men loitering with nothing to do. 

They can't just sit inside, because at home, there is nothing to eat, there is no electricity and no water in some cases.

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Social media is inundated with people in desperate need of basic food, such as bread. Anything to put something in the stomach. Mealie-meal and cabbage has become a meal to be really grateful for. 

A few months ago, a young girl asked for food on social media after losing her job. She was the breadwinner, supporting her mother and family who live in a shack. 

When Covid-19 hit, her family was going hungry. She took a picture of what was inside the fridge. There was nothing, the fridge was not even on because that would be a waste of electricity they already do not have. 

She was in need of a cleaning job, but they are grabbed so fast because everyone in her immediate circle is in the same boat. 

That's the story of our young people. Living in the same poverty their parents and grandparents lived in. 

The most frustrating fact is that we can't even look to government officials for hope. How can we when we hear news of looting and corruption every day. Millions go missing, dodgy dealings go hand in glove with those in power.

Their families are enriched and their children handle multi-million rand deals. They are living lavishly and born 'tenderpreneurs'. 

And they don't know what poverty looks like. 

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It would be convenient to blame Covid-19 for all of it but that would be far from the truth.

I remember the excitement when former President, Jacob Zuma, during a State of the Nation Address, said government's aim was to create no less than 500 000 jobs in a year. 

That year, the unemployment rate was on 23.5%. The next year in 2010, it went up to 24.6% according to Stats SA and ever since it has been a bitter climb.

And every generation becomes a number on a stats report. 

My heart bleeds for the millions of people, young and old who are looking for work, those who are desperate and those who have given up. Every generation has a struggle, ours is joblessness.

We are on survival mode. What does the future of young people look like? 

I fear for us. No one is coming to rescue us. 

Which is why it's so amazing to see what many young people are doing to fight off poverty. 

The strides they are taking, businesses they are opening and creativity they are unleashing. They are taking care of households under the harshest of environments. 

They are the glimmer of hope we need for this generation, much better than our government. 

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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