How hunger worsens the youth unemployment crisis

by: Abigail Javier - 2 December 2015

World Food day Kaya Nornan Photo by Abigail Javier

In the stillness, a growling sound echoes across the room. When his stomach aches synchronously with the sound, Kaya Nornan (23) from Mamelodi East, Pretoria, knows he’s hungry. But when he finds nothing to eat in the kitchen, he soon remembers that it’s the last week of the month.

Funds from his younger brother’s child grant and his grandmother’s pension ran out earlier in the week. “Son, we don’t have anymore money for food,” his grandmother confirms. Both Kaya’s parents passed away in 2010. His grandmother suffered a stroke recently and his brother is still in school. So ultimately, it’s up to him to look after the family.

But Kaya has lost his ID and he only went up to grade nine in school, so finding a stable job is difficult. And when he can’t even find temporary jobs (in construction or gardening) he has to break the news to the family that they will have to bear a week without having no food to eat.

Hunger is a big issue in South Africa

According to Food Bank South Africa, Kaya and his family are one of the 13.8 million South Africans who suffer from the lack of food security. The majority of this statistic is the youth. While there are a number of reasons why food security is lacking in the country, the main ones are poverty and unemployment.

Oxfam, an international organisation working to find solutions to poverty, reports that 10% of the South African population live in extreme poverty; on less than R15.85 per day. At 25,5 %, the country’s unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world. The soaring food prices have also worsened the situation, as 23% cannot afford an adequate diet. “It hurts me as a man when I can’t provide for my family,” says Kaya.


The implications of hunger

Oxfam says that hunger is more than a physical feeling: “It creates obstacles for people to reach their full potential.” Malnutrition is one of the major implications of food insecurity. This “hidden” hunger, which is the chronic lack of vitamins and minerals, causes the body to not function properly.

For Kaya and his family, this is an everyday situation. Their basic diet consists of maize meal (or rice), beans, spinach and a few other vegetables. Buying other food from the different nutrient groups is too expensive. They also don’t eat meat, because they don’t have a fridge in which to store it.

Tebogo Nonyane, a community service provider who works for Viva, says that hunger affects the youth’s ability to perform well academically. Viva is  an NGO that helps to transform high-priority poverty areas into stable communities. “They can’t go to school because they don’t have energy to study,” she says. Food insecurity also drives people to commit crimes in desperation. “Other than stealing, young girls from most families will sell their bodies so they can bring something home to eat,” says Tebogo.

Some are driven into gangsterism and drug abuse. Kaya was unfortunately one of them, but got clean after his grandmother sent him to the Eastern Cape for a while to get away from all of that. “His drug problem made me so sick. It made me worry so much, the gangsters went looking for him because they wanted to kill him,” says Kaya’s grandmother. Tebogo says that for some people living in Mamelodi, it’s easy to fall into those temptations, and use it as a way to stop thinking about the poverty they are in.


What is being done to eradicate hunger

Government does provide subsidies to help families with food insecurities, but it’s not enough. Kaya’s family receives only R1770 a month from the government: R330 from the child grant and R1440 from his grandmother’s pension fund. Most of that money goes to food and clothes for Kaya and his brother.

But while it’s obvious that government needs to do more, people need to start helping themselves too, says Tebogo. Aside from providing food parcels to impoverished families, Viva teaches the community ways they can make money to buy food for themselves. “We teach the community to grow their own vegetables, not only for sustaining themselves nutritionally, but also for the purpose of selling it,” she says.

They also teach chicken farming and recycling. “Viva has been helping us for a long time, every month they help provide. Sometimes they host a food feast for all of us to make us feel like we are not missing out on life,” says Kaya. On some days, the NGO hosts food festivals where they will have braais and invite the families of Mamelodi to come through. “Sometimes we even take them out to Pretoria Zoo, just so they experience something they can’t afford to,” says Tebogo. Tebogo says in order for South Africa to truly eliminate extreme hunger, more projects like Viva need to come together and share ideas.

Kaya feels bad about the things he has done in his past, but according to his grandmother he is a good boy. She says that Kaya does all the cooking and cleaning in the house. He and his brother also help bathe their grandmother. “Sometimes he talks to me about all the things he wants to do for us; find a good job to buy a fridge and do other things to make the house look better,” she says. “Kaya’s dream, it’s bright. It’s bright and beautiful.”

Images by Abigail Javier