We live in a country where over a quarter of the population is unemployed, the majority of which being people who are actually work-ready. Those whose only business at their particular stage in life is to be working; the young. 

By ‘working’ I am not referring to them expressing their inherent abilities for the ultimate benefit and enjoyment of society, like a young soccer star wreaking havoc in the field and then spotted by someone who knows someone at Kaiser Chiefs or a beautiful piece of portrait begotten of by the hands of a “Sowetan Picasso” or the lexical prowess of a young poet who grew up under the indirect tutelage Mbuyiseni Mtshali, the way God intended. In an ideal world, maybe but, those ideals were asphyxiated to death by lack of attention and platform through which they could be enhanced. At this juncture, I’m just referring to basic, technical employment. 

Without entertaining the fact that some of those who are “privileged” enough to have jobs under such horrid circumstances may still be bordering on the line of poverty, rendering their services to a maximum only to be remunerated just enough to return the next day and submit themselves again to dictatorship  (and maybe, with enough thrifting, be able to afford ingredients for home-baked bread), the numbers are bad.

While I am by no means qualified to distribute unemployment statistics (which is why I did not), I do boast a lived experience in the field of unemployment and the submission-to-dictatorship field. This is the only reason I would feel more than comfortable opinionating on the matter and possibly sharing my preference of the two.

I would not be a typical black child, had I not tendered my services to some random employer such as the KFC at Maponya Mall or the Mr Price Home at Trade Route Mall, right? So guess what?… I did. In my effort to cling to the traditional route of a Sowetan kid trying to be able to afford something, that’s exactly what I did. I worked for them both (not concurrently, of course). While I had enough hubris to believe that none of them was, even in the slightest, worthy of my presence, I tendered my services to both entities and the only thing special about both of them was the people. The same guys that were subjugated by those who are higher-up in the chain of command and also looked down upon by the people they were supposed to be offering their services to. They are the only thing that was (and still is) special about them.  

I mean, these are individuals who were able to mitigate the struggle of being subordinates to a faceless, albeit thoroughly feared,  dictator, (simply because they had been at it for a bit longer). While trying to keep it together for the customers who constantly misconstrue their kindness for weakness. They exerted sparks of black consciousness, but dared not divulge in the presence of the “trusted.” They were too bossy and would do anything to ingratiate themselves to the higher-ups. So a mild awkwardness was kept in their presence. They were not in the circle. 

Most of my employment tenure, however, was in the call centre industry. Even though it suggested to be a class up from where I had been, this environment eloquently projected the structure of dictatorship and exposed me to something I had never prior experienced; structural racism. With KFC and Mr Price Home the phenomenon was subtle. We were all black. We had a black manager preside over us and we were all in one site, sort of the Group Areas Act only with stipends. But suddenly, I found myself in a situation where all my people were gathered on one side of the office, grinding in an effort to keep their jobs. That’s right!… you heard me correctly, we were not working to make progress in life or for financial betterment (because that would imply we were paid enough), we worked to keep working. You see, our kind of job was performance-based, which meant that if you did not meet your target for three consecutive months or your KPI did not meet the required standard for the same period, you would consequently be plunged into the regions of the unemployed. We were dispensable… “Ill-remunerated”, black and dispensable. 

On the other side of the office were the “offices”. This is where everything not black was located: Not black people, not black air-conditioners, not black sandwiches, not black computers (which is to say ‘with internet’). I believe they intentionally ate not black Oreos. The very atmosphere was not black. In retrospect, I’m surprised they were not blatant enough to put a sign that said: “EUROPEANS ONLY”.

Now, the work environment for the white demographic was altogether different. Their jobs were not performance-based. They had their own offices. Those who shared an office had proper compartmentalization but still, among themselves and, unlike the k*ffirs on the jungle-side, they did not have the excruciatingly cumbersome task of chasing after debtors and coaxing them to do the responsible thing and pay their debts. Their hours were flexible and perhaps most importantly, their pay was astronomically better than ours. We would rush through the relentless rain, the blazing heat of the sun or the freezing cold (depending on what the climate offered on the day) to get the taxi rank, while their inconvenience was to walk the 0.003 km to their automobiles in the underground parking. By all accounts, their situation was antithetical to ours.  

I’m sure there are a lot of black people who were, and still are, under much tougher working conditions. After all, in a country where desperation reigns, cheap labour abounds. But, if I had the privilege to choose between unemployment and submitting to a dictatorship, I would choose neither. I heard the YGB phenomenon is on the horizon and it is my hope and prayer that we be able to get on the bandwagon. Being unemployed is a pain, but not being subjugated by fascists of the office is a pleasure. Ours is to find the means of making a living in between. We will start making progress once we compete at something we are actually good at.