Job losses in SA: Covid-19 victims are not only the sick

Some 3-million South Africans lost their jobs between February and April. They include CEOs, cashiers, software developers, roadside traders, cleaners and credit managers. Their dreams and careers in tatters, some of them told the 'Sunday Times' how they have been forced to sell cars and designer appliances, ration food and rely on friends and family to make ends meet

26 July 2020 - 00:00
By Sunday Times
Chefs, waiters, winery workers, hoteliers and tourism operators marched to parliament on Friday to protest at lockdown regulations that have forced hospitality businesses to close and threatened thousands of jobs. Police later used water cannon on the protesters.
Image: Esa Alexander Chefs, waiters, winery workers, hoteliers and tourism operators marched to parliament on Friday to protest at lockdown regulations that have forced hospitality businesses to close and threatened thousands of jobs. Police later used water cannon on the protesters.

The day live music died, along with a business 

Warren le Grange.
Image: Supplied Warren le Grange.

Guilt-ridden over retrenching his entire staff, creative director Warren le Grange now contemplates declaring bankruptcy.

Five years after Le Grange, 38, founded his live-event business Khoi Kreative, the lockdown has shattered his dreams, striking just as the agency was in the process of bringing US rapper Cardi B to SA for a concert.

Le Grange said he had lost an estimated R30m in income he was expecting from live entertainment such as a four-city tour by the PAW Patrol show and a Boyz II Men concert. He and his fiancée are in the process of selling their Sandton home and a car.

“Next would be closing down and probably declaring bankruptcy because of all the debt.”

— Leonie Wagner

Her future is clear: to start her own business

Balekane Baloyi
Image: Supplied Balekane Baloyi

Balekane Baloyi was the first in her family to graduate from university, and last year she landed a job in public relations. In May the company, Magna Carta, said it would cut jobs, hers included. “I had huge plans … but all of that is gone now,” said Baloyi, 24.

Baloyi has fallen back on her siblings and mother. They live in Alexandra, Johannesburg.

“This pandemic has shown me how quickly things can be taken away from you, and how reliant we become on jobs and salaries in working for someone else.

“I want to make my own way, and being without a job has given me some clarity. I want to start my own business so I’ll never be in this position again.”

— Jeff Wicks

Job prospects fade for a mother of four

Abigail Mncwango
Image: Supplied Abigail Mncwango

KwaZulu-Natal single mother of four Abigail Mncwango, 49, works for a tour company that may have to close. She has put one child through college, has two at university and another in school. Her employer has warned Mncwango and 27 other employees that the chances are slim of the whale- and dolphin-watching business in St Lucia opening again.

Mncwango, a booking agent who lives near iSimangaliso Wetland Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal, is worried that she will not find another job.

She said that although South Africans can visit tourist destinations such as St Lucia, her company depended on foreign tourism.

— Orrin Singh

‘There are days when I feel I can’t breathe …’

Tas Chetty
Image: Supplied Tas Chetty

When SA went into lockdown in March, Durban biokineticist Tas Chetty's income froze, so she reinvented herself.

Chetty, who had four thriving practices at gyms and medical centres, went from a life of luxury to a “humbling” downsizing.

“I went through my finances, froze investments, got three-month payment holidays across the board and cut costs.”

As work dried up she started a home-based business selling savoury snacks. She is now also offering her services as a tutor and au pair.

“There are days when I feel I can’t breathe when I think of what I need to do to earn money … but I have had to put on my big girl pants and make it work,” said Chetty.

— Yasantha Naidoo

She gave up her books and stove to keep going

Barbra Bowman
Image: Supplied Barbra Bowman

Barbra Bowman sold her beloved book collection and her Smeg stove to buy food and pay living expenses. Bowman, 47, lost her job as an administrator in a Durban events company that has closed.

She had not received a cent from the Unemployment Insurance Fund temporary employer-employee relief scheme, she said.

Despite trawling the internet daily and submitting applications to several companies, she remains unemployed.

“I have some bad days where I will start to cry and I am unable to stop, then I have much better days. I am thankful that I have some close family and friends who chat with me via WhatsApp or Messenger.”

— Suthentira Govender

Striking out — away from traditional work

Caelin Roodt
Image: Supplied Caelin Roodt

Caelin Roodt lost her job with a local jewellery brand, but has teamed up with friends running an events company, Roots Up Durban.

It is a pay-per-view streaming service featuring local artists.

“Traditional ways of employment are currently a bit of a dead end,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate to have quite a bit of freelance writing and production work trickling in.”

As a single parent, she has also been able to give more attention to her nine-year-old daughter. “I’m also really aware that my previous privilege of job security has meant that my situation is not too dire, yet, in many respects.”

— Nivashni Nair

Getting a job is one thing, keeping it another

Donovan Risk
Image: Supplied Donovan Risk

Donovan Risk, 29, of Cape Town, was confident about his job until he received his June pay cheque. He was told there would not be another.

“I was a software developer at a company which had international clients. The team was split between SA and the Czech Republic,” said Risk.

“We were very confident that the company would continue running well due to the fact that we were all working pretty much 100% remotely and that our clients were spread out across the world.”

But the business started to buckle when a big client pulled out. “There is a lot of work for software developer jobs, but it doesn’t mean your position is safe. There were some people who joined our company a month or two before they were laid off. There’s a difference between getting a new job and keeping it.”

— Aron Hyman

Last round has been called for Irish pub

Laurence Dinsdale
Image: Supplied Laurence Dinsdale

Much to the despair of Durban patrons, a “For Sale” sign hangs outside popular Irish pub Dropkick Murphy’s in the entertainment precinct of Florida Road.

“We had a profitable business,” says owner Laurence Dinsdale. “Since lockdown we have not traded. We reached out to our bank, which gave us a three-month payment relief on our bond account. Unfortunately we did not qualify for a further extension. Our business bank account has been frozen. Debt has mounted drastically, which has forced us to look at selling our business and building.”

He has had to sell his car. “The stress is growing every month and I’m being forced to sell off my assets that I have worked hard for, over my decade-long involvement in this wonderful industry, to meet my expenses.”

He said the bar’s 42 staff were getting some UIF money.

— Lwandile Bhengu

Thirty-year-old tour business goes under as cash flow dries up

Danie and Riëtte Bennett
Image: Supplied Danie and Riëtte Bennett

They gave thousands of tourists a thrill watching whales and dolphins frolic in the Indian Ocean. But after 30 years in business, the owners of Advantage Tours, Danie and Riëtte Bennett, are struggling to keep their heads above water.

They have a mere six weeks of cash flow left to sustain themselves and their 28 staff. Riëtte said the business, based in St Lucia and Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal, relies on a thriving tourism industry. The lockdown has hit them hard.

“As owners we have been using money from our private pension funds and now we are out of money. We have another six weeks of cash flow, after that we are done — we don’t have any savings left.”

She does not believe the business will survive, and they will most likely sell everything and move closer to Durban, where she will look for a job.

— Orrin Singh

‘I feel like I’ve failed my sons as a father’

Shaun Sanssouci
Image: Supplied Shaun Sanssouci

For four months, Shaun Sanssouci and his two sons have relied on relatives for food after he lost his job in April.

The 37-year-old, who was a call centre operator for a Cape Town courier company, said: “Life has really been tough. Not being able to provide for my sons, aged 10 and two, has been the worst experience for me. I feel guilty … like I’ve failed them as a father ...”

Having worked for the company for less than a year, he was one of the first to be retrenched. “We lost a lot of clients after the lockdown so the downsizing was inevitable. Those of us who couldn’t work from home were at greater risk of losing jobs.”

He said he has had to turn down job offers “as they required me to work from home and have internet”.

But his hopes have risen after his sister bought him prepaid home Wi-Fi.

— Sipokazi Fokazi

The art of squeezing money from stone

Timothy Mumpande
Image: Supplied Timothy Mumpande

Cape Town trader Timothy Mumpande is offering discounts on his stone sculptures, but still can’t find buyers.

The Zimbabwean cuts a lonely figure at the bottom of Red Hill, near Cape Point Nature Reserve. He manages an outdoor shop that used to attract busloads of foreign tourists at weekends, but which is now empty except for 10 staff.

“We were closed from March and opened last week, but for now we don’t have any tourists,” Mumpande said. “Over the weekend a few locals came to ask if we were open.”

He said staff spent their time cleaning the artwork, which ranges from giant animal figures to small abstract pieces — all trucked in from Zimbabwe. They are on reduced pay, with little hope of a cut from sales.

“We can’t demand [more] — even the boss doesn’t have money.”

— Bobby Jordan

A bit of history on a pita goes dark in Melville

Gerald Elliot
Image: Supplied Gerald Elliot

When Gerald Elliot and co-owner Toerie van der Merwe said goodbye to Ba-Pita, a Middle-Eastern restaurant in the heart of Melville, on June 15, they also had to turn off the taps for 25 staff members. His staff supported 75 people; he himself 13 people.

Ba-Pita tried to do take-aways, but it was not viable, and UIF payments brought only temporary relief to staff.

Closing shop also meant closing the door on history. When Ba-Pita was founded in Yeoville in 1994, it was truly a microcosm of what SA could be, Elliot said.

“Ba-Pita and others along the 7th Street strip struggled after the Poppy’s shooting on New Year’s, but in March things were looking up. Until the lockdown. For the first three weeks in lockdown I was in mourning. But you can’t linger on pain, we are now looking forward.”

— Alex Patrick

Dinners and treats are things of the past

Mncedisi Nkhoma
Image: Supplied Mncedisi Nkhoma

Accountant Mncedisi Nkhoma used to spoil his wife with a romantic dinner date every month, and made sure there was a treat for his 11-year-old daughter too.

All that ended when his contract as a credit manager was terminated. “It’s terrible being the head of the family who can’t pay the accounts,” said Nkhoma, 38, of Mamelodi.

With his last salary he paid in advance his daughter’s private school fees, the rent and a few other accounts. A friend has helped with car repayments. His wife is a waitress and has started working again, but the family still relies on food parcels.

It’s not just his immediate family. He has two sisters who, as the elder brother, rely on him for help. “I’m their last hope, so now that I can’t help them, they’re worse off. It’s been very traumatic.”

— Leonie Wagner

‘It’s been so tough …  I feel like a burden’

Tlhologelo Ngubeni
Image: Supplied Tlhologelo Ngubeni

Too ashamed to go home, Tlhologelo Ngubeni, 25, has been relying on vouchers from her church since losing her job. Ngubeni left her family in Mpumalanga after getting a job in Pretoria as a cashier at a car wash in Menlyn in June last year. She was able to send money home and support her single mom, who is a domestic worker.

But with the hard lockdown in March, Ngubeni was told the car wash was closing.

“It’s been so tough not having what you used to have. It’s been a nightmare. It’s not easy for me to ask for help because I feel like a burden,” Ngubeni said.

This feeling kept her in Mamelodi, where she lives with a friend who is a student. “I have to think before eating. I eat less and I have to save the little I have for tomorrow because I know there’s no money coming in,” Ngubeni said.

— Leonie Wagner