What next for the jobless youth?
They began a three-day journey on a fully laden truck and a container. Many of whom were forced to prostitute themselves as a way of paying for their journey. Others die on the way in their attempts to manoeuvre into foreign shores as well as hoodwinking foreign authorities. They cross continents, undertaking an epic journey during which they bribe border guards to pass through bush and across mountains. Their average age is 25 years but some are as young as seven. Their destination, of-course, is South Africa, perceived as a place of opportunity; the Promised Land.
They believe the country is abound in wealth. Furthermore, the country’s currency is stronger than Malawi’s. They are frustrated with lack of hope and chance to achieve their dreams in their native country. Just like any other migrants, they enter South Africa to find jobs, earn money and send some to help their relatives and for other investments back home.
However, for those who make it, if they survive, in prospect of freedom from poverty or effects of economic problems, end up being exploited. The brutal reality sees them ‘employed‘in violation of labour laws, earning less than R200 a week. Manymore find no peace as they always hide for fear of being caught, jailed and deportation for illegal entry. Very few have contacts with the office of the high commissioner of their country; larger numbers are not in decent jobs.
Selling goods in the streets is a source of income to many; collecting plastic bottles from rubbish dumps to make a living, gardening, cooking, catering and security guard are some of the easily available jobs they find in South Africa. In the country, technical and craft workers such as technicians, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, tailors and waiters are the most well paid as compared to Malawi. But for the illegal Malawian migrants, these jobs are hard to come by.
Females have it worse as they are lured into sex industry. These people are all but visible to South African society.
One of them, who we will call Marita, a 28-year-old college graduate and her 18-year-old sister travelled from Mangochi. They emigrated to South Africa after the death of their parents, which was compounded by job scarcity despite having some academic qualifications.
Marita says after their parents’ death, she was forced to take up the role of a mother in her effort to support her sister and two brothers by selling clothing and household items for their survival.
When their inheritance ran out, she started selling doughnuts on the streets of Mangochi. This is where a friend of her late mother recognised her and offered to help her escape from the economic malaise in the country, together with her sister.
Marita narrates that she and her sister were spared from sexual abuse because their late mother’s friend provided them with food and paid for their passage while others in their company had no choice but to have sex with older men during the journey.
“It was the worst experience of my life and something I’ll have to learn to live with,” recalls Marita.
But when they arrived in Johannesburg, the driver abandoned them at park station. Needless to say they knew no one and no one spoke their native language.
Fortunately, they met a Malawian businessperson who took them to his home from where they were offered a job as bar tenders. This had never been the dream Marita had hoped for.
Even though Marita has a degree in social science, she cannot work in her profession field as she is not the citizen of the country. She is one of the Malawians who work as manual labourers.
At least, Marita hopes to learn driving and believes she will earn enough to fend for herself, assist her relatives back home but she does not earn enough to enrol at a driving school.
The story of Marita might be imaginary but it is very real to many youth in Malawi.
Unemployment and underemployment levels coupled with recent massive layoffs mainly in the private sector have been very high in Malawi even though no accurate statistics exist. Each year, thousands of students graduate from various colleges in their specialised fields but only a few are graced to find a job.
The situation has thrown most job seekers even among the university graduates into desperation to the extent that some would accept any job offer even when they know the working conditions are appalling. This has also made some employers not even bother to allow their employees to access working conditions so that they can hire and fire at all. A spot check in the cities of the country shows that many youth are engaged in casual jobs such as minibus touting, driving and shop assistants.
The rising unemployment has contributed to poverty levels which has led to the declining of social fabric and increased insecurity which has in turn contributed to a backdrop of failing private domestic and foreign direct investments. Hundreds of jobs are lost as companies and factories close down due to economic pressure that has come due to donor fatigue and other micro-economic fundamentals.
The available statistics indicate that the country has seen a total decline in private sector contribution to the public with many companies closing down due to failure to effectively compete. This has not only increased the poverty levels but also heap the burden on the public sector currently employing more than 700,000 people with over 50 percent in the education sector alone.
And, as the number of the unemployed continues to rise, more and more Malawians, out of desperation to earn some money, are forced to work for almost nothing. Their take-home cannot cater for their daily expenses that have risen to astronomical levels.
Most people interviewed in some townships in Blantyre and Lilongwe revealed that they have no hope of getting employment in the country looking at the current trend of securing jobs.
Maxwell Mlabowa complains that it is hard to make his ends meet.
“I’m jobless for more than five years now. I can’t just stand it. I think government is not doing enough to create jobs. People were made to believe that after school there are jobs out there and not entrepreneurships. This is why a lot of people prefer white-collar jobs to doing businesses,” he says, amid nods of approval from his fellow job seekers converged on Blantyre labour office playing bawo in a long waiting for job call-ups.
Just like many other graduates and school-leavers, Mlabowa describes Malawi employment as an ageing workforce. He attributes this to employer’s insistence on several years of experience in job candidates.
“The local labour market is based towards the old and that it is not just responsive to the emerging and changing world. The challenge is experience while the youth are just from school. And there is skills gap as no one is ready to employ the youth or the school-leavers,” he observes.
However, former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika was on record to have asked institutions to recruit job seekers based on qualifications not just experience.
Furthermore, the minimum wage for the domestic workers in Malawi is K317 from K178.25 per day effective July 1 2012. This is extremely insufficient if compared to the high levels of living propelled by the current economic woes.
However, during political campaigns, candidates promise to end the unemployment problems once voted into power but when they take up offices, they unfortunately never fulfil their pledge.
The situation has resulted in most Malawians trekking to neighbouring countries like South Africa in search of green pastures where their lives have been at the knife-edge, with, for instance, gruesome xenophobic attacks where many foreigners including Malawians were killed.
Just recently, the country has been experiencing human trafficking, where the trafficked people have been earmarked for dirty works such as sexual abuse, child labour and robbery in the countries.
Although there are no statistics available to indicate the number of Malawians seeking fortunes abroad in a year, Malawi Investment Trade Centre Chief Executive Officer for Clement Kumbemba says currently over three million Malawians live in South Africa alone while many others live in countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and the United Kingdom. He says the majority are the youth.
Over the years, the governments have been implementing a number of deliberate programmes aimed at, among other things, scaling up the opportunities for the young people to acquire vocational skills for them to create their own employment and a decent life and thereby reduce the high levels of poverty. These include the Malawi Enterprise Development Fund and community technical colleges.
“The only way out is to give [young graduates] the technical and financial support to create their own enterprises. Previous governments did not consider this issue in their programmes,” says Henry Mussa, Minister of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development.
But despite these, the levels of unemployment and underemployment still remain high. Using the broad definition, the national statistical office, Malawi labour force survey of 2013-2014 says the youth unemployment rate in the 15-24 age group is 28 percent against the 46 percent of the country’s youth population. This is an indication of the extent to which the economy is unable to provide employment for young people. Entrepreneurship climate in Malawi seems to be hazy due to tough globalisation world, cost of finance, utility services and customs regulating procedures and bureaucracy. Markets of goods, capacity, capital and politics are also the other main challenges affecting the initiatives.
Other surveys have exposed that it is still doubtful if at all the soaring unemployment gap is going to be filled as the importation of labour, on the other hand, continues to widen. The trend is said to be worse in the private sector due to poor transition procedures when transforming from the public to private entity.
Currently, economic experts have observed that the high level of labour importation is forced to provide what it does not consume and consume unproductible. They say companies mostly use cost-cutting measures of which employing locals in manual work has turned to be an alternative of cheap labour whereby majority in such sections are less educated.
George Chilongo, a labour expert, says there is scarcity in the labour market with regard to skilled workers which is an area that all the stakeholders must address from education system to the employment scene.
He says while unskilled labour is seem to be in abundance, the same cannot be echoed from employers considering the consistent lack of skilled labour. Besides other sources, “the issue of lack of skilled labour system emanates from inefficiencies in labour system”.
“One of the problems faced by employers with regard to skills is that most of the content of the education attained from technical colleges does not meet the requirements of employers. The immediate result of this is that training costs tend to be on the highest scale due to frequent need on behalf of workers to be trained. Reciprocally employers’ ability to provide the expected working conditions and distribution of awards whether financial or physiological becomes very limited,” Chilongo says.
Other critics point out that youth unemployment deserves a much longer-term focus.
“The population is growing fast and becoming younger and younger,” says Shy Alli, a young advocate based in Blantyre.
“If programmes do not take into account factors like the demographic growth, they will be a failure,” he says, adding government should think about setting up long-term programmes over the decades and not the short-term ones.
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