Unemployment has them waiting on curbs and corners from 5am, hoping to get picked
I’m a bit nervous as I approach this group of men, who, from the look of things, are agitated and grumpy. “Are you going to give us jobs?” asks one as I try to explain my purpose to them. “Ntombazana, uzele usinika umsebenzi? (Girly, are you here to give us jobs?)”, reiterates the other. By this time, I’m already regretting approaching these men.
You may have seen these men, usually standing or sitting in groups next to the side of the road with their small bags carrying their lunch meals. They sit in hope of someone arriving and hopefully picking them amongst a group of other men who are seeking employment, to do small jobs. I admire their courage to wake up in the early hours of the morning to wait patiently and resolutely for someone who might (not) come and pick them for a job which has no clear description.
“I arrive here at 8:00 in the morning and I leave at around 6:00 in the evening if I don’t get any job for the day. Getting a job depends, really,” says 46-year-old Vuyani Madyibi. He only went up to standard-six in school and has no proper training for the jobs he usually does for the white men who usually come by. Cleaning the yard, paving and plastering form part of his job description. He usually gets R150 or R200 for a full day job, sometimes less if he has only worked for a few hours. Mr Madyibi is just a smaller piece of the puzzle. There are younger men than him, in their late 20s, mostly sole breadwinners in their homes and they have to look for ways to curb the rampant, ongoing poverty with which they face. This is just one of those ways.
“I have a Matric certificate and I did some training in tiling, paving and pottery but the work I get is dependent on the contractor. I just finish up where it needs to be finished. I finish the work that the previous worker decided to leave unfinished and get paid for it,” says 40-year-old Simphiwe.
It’s generally unskilled and semi-skilled workers that form part of this and they have no other means to get employment to support their families or themselves. They are at the mercy of contractors who might (not) be looking for people to work for them each day. Every morning there’s an inner conflict inside all these men to wake up early in the morning for a job that might not be available. With other men being picked for jobs in front of you and you being left standing alone, being optimistic and hoping for the best is the winner. Most of them agree that even if they did not a get a job the previous day, they still wake up the next day in hope of getting something, not because it’s easier to hope but because they have no choice but to do it. Their families are counting on them.
Images: Masixole Feni