LISTEN | 'I will not grow old here': Youth Day podcast highlights SA's growing economic inequality

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Listen to the first episode of Radio Workshop’s latest podcast entitled, “I will not grow old here”.
Listen to the first episode of Radio Workshop’s latest podcast entitled, “I will not grow old here”.
Radio Workshop
  • This story starts with a number: 70%. That's how many young people in South Africa are unemployed.
  • Youth hustle and hope to find success, but how do you make it in a place like Alexandra in Johannesburg? And how do you get out?
  • Mary-Ann Nobele brings listeners into her life in Alex and shows us why she's made this promise to herself: I will not grow old here.

Listen to the episode here.

Mary-Ann Nobele is a resident of Alexandra which is located next to Sandton, Johannesburg. The 23-year-old lives in a four-bedroom house with her grandparents, aunt, uncle, baby cousin and sister. Three generations of her family have lived here since the 1980s, but Nobele is adamant - she wants out.  

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"Right now, I'm stuck in limbo… Uncertain about how or even when I will be able to leave," she said.

The Radio Workshop's I will not grow old here is a three-part podcast series. In it, Nobele gives listeners a unique glimpse into her current reality.

The Radio Workshop podcast was launched in 2021 by the Children's Radio Foundation, an organisation that trains youth across Africa as radio reporters and aims to tell intimate and layered stories about a broad range of youth experiences across the continent.

"Our struggles are endless here. Sometimes, I have to sit in my bedroom and just pray not to hear gunshots. And if I do hear gunshots, I have to pray harder that it's not someone I know," Nobele said.

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She also examines the complex but often compelling reasons why she is not among the 70% of the youth who are unemployed.

Nobele conducts in-depth interviews with family and friends and poses challenging questions around how youth are expected to succeed in "a place like Alex".

Mental health among youth is also discussed, with emphasis being placed on the lack of access to professional help and resources, and how young people are increasingly choosing to work for companies that prioritise employee wellbeing.

"People always talk about youth being the future as if we are people in the making - we are people now," said Nobele, who in addition to being a radio reporter, also works at the non-profit Gun Free South Africa. 

She said:

Youth in Alex could easily get a low-wage job, but we know there is more to life, and our resolve is clearer than ever. We want a space that pays the bills but also makes us content. Toxic environments, depression and anxiety in return for money are no longer worth it. What's more, youth want jobs that will provide a solid foundation for the careers they actually want to pursue.

The episodes also highlight the "invisible line" between wealth and poverty, aptly illustrated by the main road separating Alex and the affluent suburb of Sandton. 

"We all had hope that post-democracy, focus would be placed on improving townships. Sadly, conditions remain the same; people are still struggling, still being sheltered by corrugated iron and still have no water or plumbing.

"My goal is that this podcast accurately depicts how the majority of our population live and raises awareness about why we need to invest in our youth now - there is no question that we as South African citizens deserve so much more."

Keen to hear more of this story? Episode 2 will be available on 23 June, and the series conclusion will be uploaded on 30 June. 

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