WATCH: A not so happy New Year

“I started looking for work but I can’t any more. The disappointment is too much for one to handle.”

For far too many people in the Eastern Cape it's very difficult to be optimistic about 2018

These are the achingly painful words of 22-year-old Sibusiso Kangela, a bright young man who did well at school and who should be well on his way to building a better future. But although he passed all his subjects at school and his matric results in 2013 were good enough to earn him a place at university, Kangela was completely without the means to study further.

As a result he is among the many youth of Duncan Village, East London, who have ended up doing “undignified jobs” such as pushing trolleys and washing cars.

“I have a lot of negative feelings,” he said. “It’s not easy for a young person in Duncan Village to be unemployed. Crime and drugs are the order of the day but I try to keep away from them.”

Kangela and his four younger siblings remain dependent on his granny’s old age pension, something which he finds soul-destroying.

“I had a dream that by now I would have relieved my grandmother of the responsibility of taking care of us. It would have been nice to be the first man to provide for my family,” he said.

Instead each morning brings more pain and anxiety. When he sees other youth going to work or to university he explains that he feels completely alone and hopeless.

Nor do the nights bring rest. Rather they are a sleepless ordeal spent frantically trying to think of ways to get out of the poverty trap.

He has thought of starting a business, but it’s an overwhelming idea for a young man with no business experience nor the financial support necessary to start up.

“I think maybe I can sell soft drinks but then I think, who will come to me when we have a Boxer store right around the corner? If I had the money to start the business, which I don’t, who would help me and how would I secure funding?”

These are the questions that ring in Kangela’s head at night when most people are sleeping.

And the same questions ring in many other heads in Duncan Village and elsewhere in the Eastern Cape where life without a job is an excruciating struggle – not to attain a better life, but simply to survive.

Statistics show unemployment rocketed in the Eastern Cape last year – reaching 35.5%, the highest in SA, against the national figure of 27.7%. The picture is worse when factoring in expanded unemployment – those who have given up looking for work. It is 45.3% in the Eastern Cape versus 36.8% nationally, according to the most recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey.

No surprise then that many people leave the Eastern Cape looking for work. Between 2011 and 2016‚ a total of 326171 left, according to a report by the Institute of Race Relations’s Centre for Risk Analysis.

The report, which gives a glimpse into living conditions in all nine provinces, paints a grim picture of the Eastern Cape. Poverty measured in terms of the food poverty line – the rand value below which individuals are unable to purchase or consume enough food – is at 41.4%, higher than anywhere in the country.

This ties in with the highest number of children under five suffering from diarrhoea and malnutrition.

At the same time the Eastern Cape has the most children who have lost both parents.

The report also shows that 30.2% of Eastern Cape residents do not live in formal houses and 13% of all homes use electricity for heating.

Those in the country’s “worse-off areas” tend to move to “better-performing provinces” such as Gauteng or the Western Cape where the chance of being absorbed into the labour market is statistically higher (53.6%) and unemployment is lower.

In this context the IRR report highlights the importance of education: “People with higher levels of education are more likely to be absorbed into the labour market.”

In terms of an educated populace Gauteng has the edge with the most literate adults – 90.6% – as well as the most people with tertiary qualifications – 8%. Gauteng also has the most children aged four and upwards – 47% – at some form of early childhood development centre.

But having a tertiary qualification does not necessarily guarantee a job, especially in the Eastern Cape.

Siyabonga Nceke for instance, has a national diploma in food and beverage from the Palaborwa Foundation in Limpopo. When this Duncan Village youth finished his studies seven years ago he envisioned a bright future for himself. Instead he finds himself back home trapped in a cycle of grinding poverty.

“I am 29 years old and I have been unemployed for seven years. I have lost hope looking for a job. There is nothing I have not tried,” he said.

While thousands have left looking for work, relocation is impossible for thousands more who carry the heavy burdens of entire families and have no money.

Mbulelo Cakatiso, 38, falls in this group. He leaves home in Potsdam every day at 6am, forking out R38 to get to a street corner in Arcadia, East London, hoping to get “a tender” as a general labourer.

His impoverished family – six siblings and his mother – always look forward to his return, anxious he will put food on the table.

On the days he cannot find work, a common occurrence, he has no money to get home. “So I go into the bushes on the beachfront to find a place to sleep or sometimes sleep in the verandahs of shops in town,” he says. “Sleeping on the streets is not safe but we have to work for our families,” he said.

Cakatiso says his mother worries that he might resort to crime.

“When she sees the frustration I go through she warns me against crime. Sometimes I am able to go home but I don’t have any money for food. When I get home on those days I hide from my family.

“I just want a job and I am not afraid of work,” Cakatiso said.

Someone else who often goes without food is Ntsikelelo Tini of Duncan Village.

At 48 years old he has spent the prime of his life standing on street corners in East London six days a week, hoping to find work.

Tini’s quiet life of desperation spans 15 years. His last job formal job was in 2002 when he did plumbing and electrical work for a construction company.

He lives alone in a shack in Duncan Village and if he does not make money, there is no food for him for that day. Even when there is work Tini often has to do it on an empty stomach, which he finds tough.

“Local churches sometimes give us food. Maybe government can help those churches to help us,” he said.

Also out on the streets come rain or shine is Nokwanda Siyengu, of Eziphunzana. She sits on a corner in Amalinda desperate for domestic work. For this 37-year-old mother of five nothing is more painful than hearing the cries of her hungry children: “Whether it rains or not I have to come here because I can’t face my hungry children. Coming here and not getting a job is a sign that I at least try to provide for my children. The four grants we get are not enough to buy food for the entire month.”

On the street not far from her sits the ailing Elizabeth Mawu, 57. She lives alone in a shack in Duncan Village and looks forward to qualifying for a pension as her ailments give her problems. In the meantime she cannot stay at home penniless. She walks to Amalinda each day to look for work washing or cleaning.

On a good day these women may be lucky and find work, earning R200 to R250. On a bad day they sit on the corner until late afternoon and then go home empty handed.

Theirs is a harsh reality shared by the many who are jobless in the Eastern Cape. It is a reality that makes it hard to be optimistic about 2018, let alone to keep hope alive. – zolilem@ tisoblackstar.co.za. See Bhongo Jacob’s video on Dispatchlive

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