/ 12 January 2023

Unemployed people of South Africa cannot breathe

Saftu March Minimum Wage 9290

It is a fact that unemployment in South Africa is a crisis; more than 15 million people are jobless. Yes, unemployed people in South Africa cannot breathe; the suffocation is unbearable. They cannot breathe because of the draconian labour policies that unfairly discriminate against them.

Unemployed people cannot breathe because they are not allowed to negotiate conditions of employment and wages with potential employers. Unemployed people cannot breathe because the national minimum wage policy suffocates them. This policy is the nail in the coffin for the unemployed.

The South African Human Rights Commission, which we thought was created to protect people’s rights, ignores the complaints of the unemployed. The unemployed want the rights of unemployed people to be protected. 

We are pleading with those who are in a position of authority to at least protect the constitutional rights of the unemployed people. We want to work and earn something to take home to our families. Even a very low wage will help to restore the dignity of those who are now hopeless. 

We had a meeting in 2019 with the high-ranking officials in the office of the deputy president, DD Mabuza. Since that meeting, we have heard nothing, and we have received no replies to our emails. 

We have met various business owners who agree with us, but they are afraid to support us because they might be seen as not complying with existing laws. 

We are law-abiding citizens and the support we require is to be assisted to achieve our objective, which is that unemployed people must be exempted from the labour policies and for that to be achieved a job seekers exemption certificate must be introduced.

The certificate must exempt us from the shackles of the labour laws and allow us to enter into agreements with any employers we choose, at any wage and on any conditions we are prepared to accept. It is our lives and our labour — and stopping us from making our own agreements with employers is wrong, unconstitutional, inhumane and illegal. 

How can a government legally make millions of the citizens of its country unemployed by legally blocking employers from employing them at wages and under conditions that the unemployed people are prepared to work under, to earn something instead of nothing?   

We are rejected by political parties who are represented in parliament, and they expect us to vote for them. This shows that unemployed people are on their own. We cannot breathe and the laws of the country are stacked against us. We cannot breathe because of those whom we trusted. 

Apparently, the only thing that is good for unemployed people, according to those sitting in parliament, is a grant that is as much per month as MPs will spend on a single lunch or dinner. 

It was a dark Christmas that has just passed, and the new year will not be prosperous as long as the unemployed people cannot breathe.

How long must the unemployed endure the suffocation, what more can we do to get the attention of those in authority? The only weapon in the hands of the unemployed is the numbers. We will have to mobilise all unemployed people. We call on all those who care about the unemployed to help us with all resources at their disposal to get all unemployed people, if possible, to work. 

Imagine if the millions of South Africans who are unemployed were at work now. The boost to the economy would be huge and criminal activities would be a fraction of what they are now. 

American economist Thomas Sowell said what the South African unemployed have come to understand after their bitter experiences was: “The real minimum wage is zero.”

Any employers or concerned South Africans who speak out about allowing the unemployed people to make their own decisions about their own working lives get accused of wanting “slave labour”. Until people who are prepared to assist the unemployed by offering jobs at whatever they can afford and are prepared to speak out against the stupidity of people who are saying that a low wage is “slave labour” this problem will not go away.    

Politicians cannot be trusted, they are only in government for themselves, their families and their friends. Maybe the time has come for the unemployed people to govern the country for the benefit of all the people of South Africa. 

Xolile Mpini is the chief executive of the Langberg Unemployed Forum.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.