Cynical about government's promises, many youths want to become "tenderpreneurs", believing it is the only way to "get rich quick".
'My brother is 29 and he is a tenderpreneur – his pockets are heavy," said Sam Molekoa*, patting his thighs lustily. "My brother is teaching me the ropes."
Molekoa (20) was one of the thousand or so youths ranging from preteens to twentysomethings who gathered at the Nirvana Hall in Polokwane on Tuesday night for a night vigil for former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema on the eve of his court appearance on a charge of money laundering.
Like many in his group of first-year students bussed in from the University of Limpopo's Turfloop campus, Molekoa is studying to become a teacher. But he wants "to get rich quicker".
"I met Malema once and he shook my hand and told me: 'The truth never broke any friendships'. That is why I like him; he isn't afraid to speak the truth … But he also knows how to make a quick buck and I want to be rich," Molekoa said, grinning.
Molekoa's father was a miner who died almost a decade ago. Together with his five brothers and sisters, he was raised by his mother, a teacher. He grew up in Phalaborwa in poverty, which he wants to escape, retiring rich by the age of 30 and having "nice things like a Range Rover".
"In Limpopo, the only way to get out of the situation we are in is to became a tenderpreneur," said Molekoa, in a matter-of-fact tone. His is a hard-nosed, cynical view of government corruption (and its inability to transform lives) and how business interacts with it. It is a bleak vision of how a poor South African can rise above his circumstances.
Molekoa by no means reflected every disenchanted youth at the night vigil and there were many.
Eric Mabane* (25), who is also studying to become a teacher, said he was there to "see Malema with my own eyes". But, although Mabane is curious about the rabble-rouser's popularity and sings along to Owanya shawara, a derogatory song about President Jacob Zuma that translates roughly into: "the shower [Zuma] is shitting", he is sceptical of Malema's "disrespect for people" and his political caprice. "Just now he was saying he will kill for Zuma and now he hates Zuma. What is this about?"
Maditseshi Matsau (20), is even more critical of Malema. A commerce student also studying politics to "refresh my mind", Matsaung said: "The only way this country will not end up like Zimbabwe is if we have a strong opposition. The people here are desperate and uneducated and Malema is using them. The students were promised booze and food; that is why they are here.
"I don't think 60% of them are ANC members, so this will not matter [at the ANC's December elective conference] in Mangaung," said Matsaung.
Yet Molekoa's fatalistic dismissal of South African politics does echo around Limpopo.
Molekoa talked of his brother's first contract to provide food for a provincial hospital: "He is connected with people [in the ANC], so he set up a company and they gave him a list of what patients need to eat every day. He used the money from the tender and bought [the food]. With the profit, he paid back [his contacts], hired some people to cook the food and started expanding. He has road contracts now and drives a Mercedes." It is a story that resonated at the Polokwane Regional and Magistrate's Courts this week, with On-Point Engineering, the company whose directors are charged with fraud, corruption and money laundering associated with Malema. According to the draft charge sheet: "... it was falsely stated that On-Point had nine years of experience in business when, in fact, the company [had] existed for about one month at the time of submission of the [tender] bid".
The company, which won a R52-million contract with Limpopo's roads department, also faces fraud charges relating to using designs owned by the department and building secret relationships with service providers.
* Not their real names