Struggling to survive

Zodwa Mthethwa (33) of Katlehong township in the East Rand breaks a loaf of bread among her children. They dip the pieces into mango atchaar and hungrily eat them before rushing back to join their friends playing in the street.

This is the usual lunch for Mthethwa and her five children: Ntombiekona (15), Siphamandla (13), Siphelele (10), Sandile (6) and Sihle (2). “Things are getting very, very difficult and I have lost hope for my children,” says Mthethwa.
“I want my children to go to school and be happy like any other children, but every day I wonder what will happen to them, in terms of food, school and clothing. Sometimes we have to go to bed without food and the young children will cry throughout the night. It is a very difficult life.”

Mthethwa has no job. She depends on handouts from relatives, friends and neighbours. “I get most of the help from my aunt, who works as a housemaid in Alberton, but sometimes neighbours just help with food and clothes,” she says. Mthethwa came to the East Rand from KwaZulu-Natal to live with her mother five years ago, leaving her husband behind who she alleges physically abused her. Since her relocation to Gauteng, Mthethwa has been looking for a job, without success. Things deteriorated when her mother died three years ago.

The plight of Mthethwa is common for many families living in her area. Three houses up the street is 31-year-old Nelisewa Siwela, who lives with her three children and 78-year-old father.
Like Mthethwa, Siwela depends on friends, relatives and neighbours. She prays for the new year to bring her good luck so that she can get a job and take care of her children.

“It is difficult to depend on people for food. Sometimes they give us R10 to buy cabbage and maize meal,” she says. However, for Siwela money and food are not her only worries. Her son Nkosinathi (17) now spends time with boys who drink, smoke and even break into people’s houses. “I know he is a grown-up and if he finds a job he can do almost anything despite having no formal skills,” says Siwela.

“I sometimes call him and sit down with him to explain to him that there is no grave of someone who died from poverty.” Siwela is also worried about her 15-year-old daughter Sphiwe. She is afraid that men may take advantage of her situation and make her pregnant.

Katlehong, like any other township, is plagued by desperation unemployment and poverty are widespread. Every street corner is filled with young men and women gambling. “There are no jobs,” says Oupa Sukazi, one of the young men found playing dice in the township. “What can I do? Everywhere I go looking I am confronted with ‘No Job’ signs posted on factories’ gates.”

The job market appears saturated, even for those with formal qualifications. Mantshadi Lamola (24) holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Vista University and has been job-hunting for three years. “I have never been called even for any interview. People say the university I went to is not recognised and employers are not interested,” she says.

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