It is a Monday morning and while most people are preparing to go to work, Thabiso is moving about aimlessly. By mid-morning when his family members have gone out, he walks to the nearest post office to pick up the government daily newspaper.
He sits under a tree and scans through it in the company of other unemployed young men from his locality. They crack jokes, share their ambitions and chat about what is going on in their area of residence and country.
Sometimes, someone will come with a snack and they will share it, or they will smoke a few cigarettes. They sit at the corner tree for the most part of the day until they disperse in the late afternoons and attend to errands or go home to sleep. Thabiso has given up on finding work because “there are no jobs”.
His life has been reduced to milling around, occasionally dropping off a brown envelope at some office or spending the day in bed, dealing with the demons within him. He is the first to admit that it’s not a good quality life.
“Sometimes I develop a pain in my back or upper stomach; an aching that reflects how I feel inside. I am stressed and my self-esteem has taken a knock,” he says with a bleak expression, jokingly adding that he can’t even get a girlfriend because they call him tinto (broke unemployed man).
His reality is not different from that of many young Batswana who just sit at home daily, doing nothing and with no source of income save for a few Pulas spared by generous family members or taking on piece jobs.
Thabiso, at age 28 still lives at home with his mother and two siblings. Only one sibling works and it’s not a professional job, but shelf packing work shift at a local supermarket chain store. Thabiso does not have a tertiary qualification, which perhaps makes his job search more difficult. He also cannot point out a skill or competency he has.
“It’s useless. I have friends who went to university but they are like me. They spend their days hanging out, smoking and drinking. What difference does it make that I don’t have a degree? Life is tough for us all. At times I have thought of crossing the border to look for a job at the mines but I don’t have even money to start afresh. On most days I don’t even have cash on me. Eve if I’m called for an interview, I have to go around borrowing or begging for money. Wait for it, even the ten bucks needed to send an application can seem like a lot of money, especially as I don’t come from a well-off home,” he explains at length.
His trials and tribulations are familiar to scores of youth. The unemployment situation has been a sore thumb in Botswana’s social landscape. Jobs are scarce, and those available require skills that some youth lack.
The Botswana Core Welfare Indicators Survey of 2009/2010 revealed that unemployment among youth stood at 46.6 percent. Among those aged 18 to 19, the stats were 42.6 percent, 20-24 year olds 34 percent, 25-29 year olds 22.4 percent and 30-34 year olds, 17.2 percent.
Of all these, 17.5 percent went up to brigade level, 14.9 percent have done apprenticeships, 12.9 percent have vocational education, 4.7 percent are university graduates, while 20.8 percent have no formal or skills training.
Government has also acknowledged that unemployment leads to substance abuse, crime, prostitution and social delinquency. Thabiso knows this very well because he has also started to experiment with narcotics and other hard drugs to try and numb the pain he feels, and according to him, to reduce his stress.
“I sometimes feel like government is not doing enough to alleviate poverty and create employment for us. When I go to offices, I see old people working. What are they doing there? They should retire and go to their home villages or farms. We young people should be given a chance because we are still fresh and active,” he says with a desperate tone.
Thabiso has since enrolled for the National Internship Programme set to begin on April 1. He however has misgivings about it. “The stipend is too little but what can we do as there are no jobs. That money can get me toiletries, a newspaper and some money to buy relish for my family. Hopefully the exposure I get will equip me with skills and contacts that will ensure that I can start my own business,” he says with a glimmer of hope.
Last week the government released a statement claiming that 13 000 youth had registered for Tirelo Sechaba, although they had hoped for 15 000 enrolments.
The first-come first-serve programme makes one intake per year and is administered by the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture and the National Internship programme.
President Ian Khama revealed last year that P178 million would be allocated for the national service programme. The participants will receive a monthly allowance of P500. An amount of P200 will be put in a savings account. The participants will access the amount after exiting the progamme, which is a minimum of 12 months after joining it.
The target is youth aged 18-30 years of age. The aim of the programme, Khama said, is to encourage community involvement and active participation. In a media address late last year, the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Shaw Kgathi said the aim was to promote good citizenship, spirit of volunteerism and self-reliance. “In-built I the programme is to create a value system that teaches discipline, professionalism and commitment to community. Youth will be serving in their localities,” he said.
A press statement from government following President Ian Khama’s revelation that Tirelo Sechaba would be re-introduced read in part: ‘In response to high rates of youth unemployment, government has in the past introduced programmes geared towards generating employment opportunities for Batswana youth. The National Service programme is meant to augment the Back to School and National Internship programmes, under the Youth Empowerment Scheme.’
The latter, dubbed YES, was introduced in 2012 as a multi faceted integrated programme to encourage behavioural change, skills development and empower youth.
It has not been without controversies, with allegations of sexual and physical abuse, as well as living under undesirable environments.
Not all youth are optimistic about the programme.
Lesego Mphofu is adamant that it is a political ploy to lure voters and make it seem as if the ruling party government has youth interests at heart.
“The government has orchestrated several schemes and programmes but they all failed. It should be a sign that they are doing something wrong. They must instead go back to the drawing board and derive new ways of tackling unemployment instead of misusing public funds. Does giving someone P500 a month erode poverty? I don’t think so. Youth must be encouraged to work and start enterprises. What we are going to see here is economic exploitation. This scheme is going to fail dismally,” he says passionately.
His views are shared by Keletso Oitsile who is convinced that young people should take matters into their own hands.
“We can’t expect government to educate us and now offer us jobs. We must work for ourselves. Young people in Botswana like to be spoon-fed. It doesn’t help that many young people seem to want office jobs and expect to be squeezed in offices, getting fat pay cheques when they aren’t skilled or competent. There’s a market for technical, engineering related jobs but most people snub blue collar jobs for white collar job,” says the qualified artisan. In his view, young people are just going to take the money and spend it on booze and clothes. “This is just another form of Ipelegeng. Yes, they will have a bit of money but they can’t do much for themselves. Ke go jela mo ganong…they will buy small things only and wait for the next month and so on. How long can one live like that?”