Journalist reflects on unemployment

The young men of Blackburn Village who are counted among the country's 27,2 per cent of unemployed citizens.
The young men of Blackburn Village who are counted among the country's 27,2 per cent of unemployed citizens.

FOR most citizens like me unemployment is something we unconsciously take lightly. By ‘like me’ I mean a person who wakes up to running water, takes a bath in efforts to smell fresh but still has the luxury to put on perfume to smell even nicer.  On Friday, 28 September, like any normal day I woke up, dolled myself up and dragged myself to work. The operative word being ‘dragged’, because the unappreciative and ignorant human in me high-key wished I could just laze around and watch the sun rise until it sets.

In other news: Blackburn shack dwellers hoping for ‘Christmas lights’ 

It was when I got to Blackburn Village that I was taken aback. Accompanied by local councillor Heinz de Boer I took a drive to the informal settlement situated along the N2 right across the posh Izinga Estate in uMhlanga. Being an informal settlement you can already imagine what Blackburn is like – a mini town of illegal electricity connections,  elated children splashingand bathing in polluted water. What caught my attention was a group of young men chilling in a corner house. As I walked through the settlement I realised that each and every corner had its own group.

Seeing so many young people chilling, drinking and others doing laundry infuriated me so much. You’re probably asking yourself questions like, ‘Why would that make you angry? Who are you angry at?’ Before I answer, think about it.

According to Statistics SA, the official unemployment rate increased by 0,5 percentage point to 27,2 per cent in the second quarter of 2018 compared to the first quarter. Statistics are released almost every day. As a journalist it is my job to write about such. But also as an employed human being I have never took a minute just to think, ‘where are all these people.’

Still clouded by the senseless anger and assumption that these young men could be wanted criminals who can’t get jobs because of their records, one of them asked, “Sizosebenza nini sisi, nihlezi nifika nizosishutha, imsebenzi niyiletha nini?” meaning, “When are we going to get jobs? You are always here taking photographs, when are we getting employed?” For a minute I went vacuous.

For five minutes I was in conversation with a man who because of the way he looked, I had already assumed to be a criminal. That conversation is one I wish all employed people who feel like they hate their jobs must hear.

Also read: Twins forced to take ‘shifts’ going to school

Whenever I read or wrote about unemployment I took it so lightly. I took is as lightly as the person writing the president’s speech promising ‘change and opportunities’ but never detailing the practical plan of how. As a citizen I have never thought how unemployment affects my day to day life. The escalating hijacking, house breaking and scamming schemes, how did I not realise how much unemployment has a direct impact on all these? How – as a journalist who chose the profession in hope to change people’s lives, was I so ignorant?

Ashamed and embarrassed, I diagnosed myself with ’employment privilege’.

In one of his speeches on the topic president Cyril Ramaphosa said,“Given this economic environment, the lekgotla directed government to move with urgency to develop and implement a stimulus package to ignite growth that will lead to the creation of jobs, especially for young people and women.” 

Even though it should have been sooner, I realised that nothing is just ‘mere statistics’. Unemployment is not just a ‘rate’, it is a real thing affecting real people.

Hopefully for the youth of Blackburn Village Informal Settlement and many others like them, the president’s promise is more than just hopes and politicking.

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  AUTHOR
Nomfundo Mlaba

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