Scraping a living where no jobs are to be found

29 November 2015 - 02:01 By LUCKY BIYASE

The worst drought in decades has been damaging for South Africa's food producers, for crops, and for jobs in the agricultural sector. It's been a disaster for most stakeholders - but not so for Motala Mogabe, Pieter Sekgobela and Kgamokgelo Mokgotho.The twentysomething trio spend their time toiling on the banks of one of South Africa's largest rivers, the Olifants, foraging for building sand to supply a local businessman who in turn sells it to locals for building houses or making bricks.Day in, day out, they can be found down by the river - although s ummer is usu ally a challenging time for them because when the river is full they find it difficult to get to the sand.The arrival of the summer rains is sometimes the signal for them to stay home, where not only their river-sand work is affected: without the sand they usually supply, there is no piecework making bricks in the village either.But this year, because of the drought, the river is low - and when the rains hold off and they can get to the sand, they make about R100 for every 10 trailers they fill ."We have to be here by at least 5am every day to make sure we deliver ... If we don't give anything to the site [where the sand is bought], we don't get anything," says Mogabe, who leads the team, digging the sand and driving the tractor that hauls the trailer.The real problem happens when a tractor tyre gets a puncture and the young men have to scramble to mend it.full_story_image_hleft1"Even if you're sick, you must drag yourself to make sure that at least there is food on the table," says Sekgobela, who lives with his mother and 10-year-old brother."This is the only thing we can do. It is difficult to leave here and get another job somewhere else, but that is my wish," says Mokgotho.story_article_right1South Africa has an unemployment rate of over 25.5%, the highest of all countries tracked by Bloomberg.Unskilled jobs, especially those in the mining sector, have suffered most.The young men's home is Penge village on the banks of the Olifants River, 50km north of Burgersfort, Limpopo.Asbestos had been mined at the village since 1910, but that ended in 1993, leaving behind a legacy of diseases associated with mining the commodity as well as massive poverty and unemployment .With temperatures at 35°C, the three men say they have worked in worse."You can't sleep at home. Where will your meal come from if you do that? That's where survival is," says Mokgotho, the father of a three-year-old.Further down the river from the sand-diggers, a number of young men, women and children are trying to harvest fish from the orange waters.full_story_image_hleft2"This is not for sale!" shouts a woman who gives her name only as Lerato.Another source of employment is in the town of Burgersfort.There may have been a glimmer of hope in the other mines that dot the region - Atok, Steelpoort, Marula, Modikwa, all platinum, and a chrome mine, Dilokong.But two things work against the prospect of jobs at these mines: their means of production, and the fact that jobs are jealously guarded by the people in nearby villages.While some South African platinum mines are still highly geared towards labour - such as Lonmin's Marikana operation - others, among them Anglo Platinum's Mogalakwena mine, are becoming more mechanised, cutting the number of people they employ.Apart from the mechanisation threat, residents of mine-hosting towns have recently taken the stand that they should be the preferred beneficiaries in the mining activities affecting them. They want jobs - and black empowerment involvement - to go to those who live nearest the mines.Those who find jobs even further afield also tend to spend their money outside the village.full_story_image_hleft3Motala Mokoena, who runs a liquor shop in Penge, says business in the area has been dwindling because most locals work on mining shafts far from the area and return either on weekends or month-ends."Business is very slow. Unemployment among the youth is problematic.story_article_right2"There has been no skilling of them or career guidance," Mokoena says.Nomsa Maleka, a spaza shop owner and former privately paid teacher, agrees."We need to think about local growth after the mining debacle," says Maleka."You can see this place is a tourist attraction area. If we encourage local tourism, the place can prosper," she says of the mountainous region.Maleka's business survives by extending credit to pensioners. They and other grant recipients get paid either at the beginning or middle of the month."I give credit to these people only on big stuff like bags of mealie meal, rice flour and such like."They normally pay me when they receive their grants," she says.

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