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Professional or working class, unemployment has hammered black women the most

Two women, one young and one older. They have different stories and are from vastly dissimilar backgrounds. What binds them is they are among the 41% of unemployed black women.

Elizabeth Tlou’s story

Elizabeth Tlou, 56, was a domestic worker for a family that lived at Midstream Estate in Olifantsfontein, Kempton Park, for six years. When the hard lockdown hit she was told by her employer to go home and they would call her when restrictions eased. 

Her duties included cleaning, washing and ironing clothes, and looking after two children under the age of six.

“They didn’t have any children when I started working for them … they told me to go home when the lockdown started last year. After that, they called me to inform me that they had bought masks and sanitisers for when I return but they later called to inform me that they wouldn’t be needing my services anymore.”

Tlou, the mother of two, was paid for three months while she stayed at home in Olievenhoutbosch in Centurion.

“My employer also assisted me to claim for UIF [Unemployment Insurance Fund]. I received the UIF money for six months. I can’t remember the exact amount but it helped a lot since I was the only one who was earning an income.”

According to Statistic South Africa’s (StatsSA’s) quarterly labour force survey, the unemployment rate has yet again hit record highs, climbing to 34.4% in the second quarter of 2021. The rate of unemployment among women was 36.8% — 4.4% higher than the unemployment rate among men. 

The statistics paint a dire picture of the country’s deepening unemployment crisis, which was sent spiralling by the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns.

The unemployment rate among black women was 41% during this period, compared to 8.2% among white women.This figure rose by 2.7% between the first and second quarters.

According to the research, fewer women than men received money from the UIF’s temporary employer/employee relief scheme. Data from StatsSA shows that 22% of women between the ages of 15 and 64 work in the formal sector, compared to 29% of men in the same age range.

Tlou has not been able to find a permanent job but irons and cleans once a week for a relative. She shares the R200 she earns with her 33-year-old daughter who lives at her family’s home in Mpumalanga.

Tlou’s daughter started working at the beginning of August as a school assistant at a primary school in her area. Her son, 40, is unemployed.

“It has been a struggle but at least my daughter is now working. I’m also looking for a job because I still have four years to go before I become eligible for the old age grant, plus I still need money for groceries and other important things.”

Ntsako Baloyi’s story

Ntsako Baloyi*, who lives on the same side of Gauteng as Tlou, has been without work for 18 months. A 32-year old professional worked in the skills development sector. She loved her job, which involved helping people reach their full potential and the security of a monthly income. 

She had bought herself a car and was able to take care of herself. Now she battles to pay her medical bills. She did not receive her UIF for 12 months and when she did, the bills had piled up.

Baloyi has been battling with deep depression and adjusting to relying on her mother to help pay her bills, medical aid, the rising costs of electricity and food as well as the car repayments.

“I can’t pay for anything. I rely on my mother and that has been depressing for me. I had to move from my place to a more affordable one. My car almost got repossessed because I had skipped a couple of payments to pay for my other important bills. My medical bills are also piling up because I am no longer as healthy as I used to be. All of this is depressing.”

Realising that finding a job was going to be almost impossible, she tried “to think outside the box” and find other ways of earning an income.

“I do a lot of online work, which has helped me stay afloat. Besides looking for jobs and going to interviews … my influencer friend and I have started [managing and hosting] events around Tembisa. I back him up, coordinate the entire thing and he pays me for that.”

*Not her real name

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Marcia Zali
Marcia Zali is an award winning journalist
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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