More and more desperate South African graduates are advertising their services on the street, writes Nosipho Mngoma.
When Lindelani Madonsela walked across the University of Pretoria stage and was handed his public management degree, he thought he had made it.
As his grandmother ululated and sang the family’s clan names that day in 2011, he was already imagining himself being able to look after her as she had him his whole life.
He had already started thinking about a grand gesture to thank his older sister - a teacher - for funding his studies.
Five years later, the 28-year-old has had to resort to standing on a busy street corner with a cardboard placard similar to many seen at traffic lights around the country.
But he does not lament his poverty or ask for money for a meal - although he really could use it. Instead, Madonsela advertises his CV, in the hopes of being spotted by a potential employer.
After graduating and not being able to secure a job, Madonsela returned to his home town of Pongola in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Coming from a rural village where not many people attend university, let alone graduate, Madonsela said it was tough going back home with nothing to show for his time away.
“People that are supposed to look up to you start doubting themselves. They wonder why they should work hard in high school to qualify for tertiary studies and push to go to university if nothing will come of it. People expect you to come back with a fancy job title, a car and to be that (high class) person living that (high class) life.”
He braved the “humiliation” and overcame the pressure thanks to the support and reassurances of his family and friends from university. He returned to his former high school to volunteer to teach extra English classes. “I wanted to keep myself busy and my mind stimulated.”
All the while he kept applying for jobs. While studying, he had lived in the Pretoria township of Mamelodi, in a backroom which was 300% cheaper than living in town or university residence.
He paid for this and for food and clothes with the money his grandmother sent him from her herbal medication business.
“I would go to campus hungry sometimes, with no money for lunch. If I was going to stay on campus after 6pm, I would miss the free university bus back to Mamelodi and have to take the train because it was cheap. I persevered because I knew each day that passed was a day closer to a job.”
Back home, he struggled to find a job but because there were more jobs advertised in Johannesburg he moved in with a relative in the East Rand to continue his job search.
He landed a contract job. At the end of the contract, he found another and another until finally he was accepted for a government internship in 2014. “I thought okay this is it, everything is going to be fine now, a government internship should end with a permanent job, this is exactly what I studied for after all.”
It was not to be. When the internship ended, he was back to “being a statistic”.
On top of the daily frustration of spending his days job-hunting online at internet cafes or the costly trips of physically going to hand out his CVs, Madonsela had to deal with the feelings of inadequacy and “feeling less of a man not being able to provide for my grandmother and sister after all they had done for me”.
Unfortunately, his grandmother passed away before he could do this. Every day he fought despondency.
Last Monday he scraped together taxi fare to go to Auckland Park and stood at a busy intersection.
He handed out a few CVs to motorists who requested it and others took photos of him and circulated them on social media. Any shame or embarrassment he felt quickly faded.
“One guy snapped a photo of me and gave me a thumbs up. Another lady smiled and said she could not offer me a job but held out R20. I told her my intention for being here was not for people to hand out money to me but she insisted and because I needed money to go back, I took it. I had buses of school kids waving at me.”
Although he has yet to get a job offer, Madonsela said he was overwhelmed by the support which he believed showed that although people were not in the same situation, they empathised and did not shun him, a qualified professional, for standing at a street corner asking for help.
Madonsela does not regret his choice of qualification but believes the challenge of unemployment among youth should be addressed from the early stages of schooling. “As black people, we grow up aspiring to be employed. We are not equipped with the mind set or skills to start our own businesses.” Successful black entrepreneurs were the exception in South Africa.
Madonsela said he would not give up on securing a permanent job, and could not wait to use his skills and experience to contribute to society while earning a living.
Phindile Mthembu, 25, graduated with a National Diploma in Marketing at the Durban University of Technology last year. She is wheelchair-bound having had TB of the spine as a child.
“I always thought that if you have a disability it was easy to get a job because companies want to comply (with employment equity) I guess. But I soon found out that these were mostly learnerships for anyone with a disability.”
Months after graduating, Mthembu is unemployed. She also took her job hunt on the street. This may have been out of desperation but was also informed by the marketing concept of lifting yourself above the clutter to get noticed.
She tossed and turned the night before she went out to a traffic light in Samora Machel (Aliwal) Street in the Durban CBD.
“My mom laughed at the idea but when she saw that I was serious, she said I was brave. My mom has always been supportive of me but was obviously worried.
“She was concerned about having my number on the poster, she thought people might stalk me.
“I told her I would be strict and talk only to people who meant business.”
She did receive several calls and has sent her CV to those potential employers.
Although her studies were paid for by NSFAS/Department of Labour funding for students with disabilities, there is an outstanding amount of R3 000 which she cannot pay until she is gainfully employed. Because of this, she does not have her diploma and has to send potential employers a letter confirming that she qualified.
She believes the financial aid she received showed how South Africa had changed in that black youth were given the opportunity to study even if their financial background was poor. Mthembu believes that the country has come a long way but the economy remains the playground of the previously privileged. She would like to see the country build on the gains of 1994, which would not have been made without the contribution of the class of 1976.
Siya Mankeya, who has been seen in Sandile Thusi (Argyle) Road, carries a placard reading; “Please help a black child prosper. If you were not born into greatness, give birth to it, stop complaining all the time.”
He also writes he obtained a BCom Accounting Honours Degree cum laude but is unable to secure employment because of a criminal record.
“My history will never define my future,” reads a smaller placard he holds.
A photo of him on the street has been shared on Facebook 4 000 times and received more than 20 000 likes.
Johannesburg BTech Chemical Engineering graduate Malwandla Hadebe last month received a call from Sasol after people tweeted the energy and petroleum giant her traffic light photo.
Help from NYDA
Sabelo Ntuli, National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) Durban manager, said they had a jobs database to help young people with employment opportunities.
However, with the economy not doing well worldwide, the labour market was shrinking.
“We rely on employers to come forth and utilise our platform. It’s happening more and more that companies are downsizing and are unable to place unemployed youth,” he said.
The NYDA has been knocking on doors for learnership opportunities which enable graduates to gain experience while earning a stipend.
They also encourage youth to start their own businesses and support them by providing entrepreneurial development training.
“We equip young people with business management skills because we don”t want to give money to graduates who have never run their own business or studied without equipping them with the skills required to run their own enterprise,” said Ntuli.
After training, they can apply for grant funding of between R10”000 and R100”000 paid towards tools of trade subject to certain criteria.
“Your line of study can determine whether you can be an entrepreneur.
“That is why we offer career guidance so that people understand that when selecting their course, they need to do their research and find out if it is required by the labour market and whether it can create opportunities for entrepreneurship.
“We need them to look at scarce and critical skills so that when they graduate they are not only employable, but have the potential to become job creators,” said Ntuli.
“We encourage them to consider scarce and critical skills and to have an entrepreneurial mind even at the stage of choosing a qualification to study.
“They should set themselves up for self-employment as a second option if they can’t land a job.”
About the strategy employed by Madonsela, Mthembu, Mankeya and Hadebe, Ntuli said it showed the frustration of many unemployed young people in the country.
“They are trying any means possible to get some attention and knock on lots of different doors.”
Ntuli said the struggle of young black South Africans had changed over time. From against apartheid in 1976, HIV/Aids to unemployment.
Choose your career
Cathy Sims, executive director of the SA Graduate Employers Association, said the country was growing in supporting graduate programmes.
“I certainly, having worked in the sector for the last 20 years, have seen a significant increase in employers actively pursuing entry level candidates. We have been measuring the growth of demand of graduates in our research since 2007 and the demand has more than doubled in eight years at our member organisations.”
She said the only way to redress and change the demographics of an organisation by way of gender or race, was to actively pursue a capacity-building talent strategy.
In South Africa, many companies have structured graduate programmes aimed at facilitating entry level graduates into their organisation and structure a learning programme which prepares them for future leadership opportunities.
“On the other hand, there are also many companies that need trained technical professionals - be they engineers, accountants or lawyers. They will typically be placed into a position, provided with on-the-job training and fill meaningful roles,” said Sims.
Regarding choice of study, she said there were degrees and majors which were more in demand than others and this is why there are facilitated programmes to assist in building these skills - chartered accounting and computer science being two areas where there are just not enough black and coloured students pursuing these courses at university
“It is important though to consider what you are good at and what you are interested in. I would never encourage a matriculant who excels in writing and wishing to pursue journalism to switch to computer science if that is something they least enjoy - you certainly cannot spend the next 40 years in a career that you have no interest in just to earn a salary.”
Success looks different for companies and for graduates, said Sims. “For a company, it would be that you have offered meaningful, challenging opportunities for the graduate and that the graduate is engaged and stays with your organisation - so retention would be one of the measures of success. For a graduate, it would be that you are effectively developed, doing meaningful, interesting work and that you are earning a salary that is able to contribute to the upliftment of yourself and your family. We all have different expectations of success.”
Youth still struggle
Mienke Mari Steytler, spokeswoman for the SA Institute of Race Relations, warned that young people going to the length of advertising their CVs on street corners would increase if the “great” challenge of youth unemployment was not tackled.
“We are seeing mostly black youth resorting to these desperate measures as they have the highest unemployment rate. It”s not that there are no unemployed graduates in other races but the education system as it stands is still not serving young, black South Africans as it should be.”
She believes if the education system is not fixed as soon as possible, labour laws reformed and empowerment laws reformed - to serve the majority rather than a relatively small elite - then unemployment will become even greater and that would be a tragedy.
Steytler said structural issues dating back to apartheid were an issue but policies and budget management of the education system are also playing a role.
“Yes, the youth of 2016 are also fighting for equal education, employment and empowerment opportunities. Much like the youth of 1976.”
A tertiary qualification did make it a bit “easier” to get a job, however, in South Africa”s current economic climate, unemployment was growing, hitting as high as 27% some months ago, which affects everyone.
“Our youth are our dividend - more than two-thirds of South Africans are under the age of 35. If they are employed and empowered they could drive South Africa forward. However, a serious look has to be given to policies relating to education, the economy and employment,” Steytler said.
* Chance of being absorbed into the workforce with matric - 51.1%
* Chance of being absorbed into the workforce with tertiary education - 76.7%
* Number of unemployed South Africans with matric - 1.7 million
* Number of unemployed South Africans with tertiary education - 405 000
* Unemployed youth (15-24 years)
Black - 53.7%
Coloured - 46.4%
Indian/Asian - 23.5%
White - 25.0%
Source: Institute of Race Relations 2016 South Africa Survey