“You ask yourself why you have to feel so much pain and stress,” says 26-year-old Abed Matobo. “But destiny chooses you. One day you will see the purpose for the struggle.”
Struggle is a theme he returns to time and again as we speak. It was on November 15 in Gaborone when Matobo granted me the chance to talk to him about the crisis of employment facing Batswana youth.
“You keep knocking on different doors. Most times, you are turned away. But one day there will be a reward for that.”
Matobo’s is a classic story of the new Botswana: The eager educated youth, away from his sun-baked village, struggling to get a job. He has been unemployed since he graduated in 2010.
“Life is tough these days,” he muses. “We used to be told education is the key to success.”
But it is not that simple for Botswana’s educated youths anymore. The job market is swamped with graduates seeking employment. Scores of them now roam the streets fruitlessly.
For youths like Matobo, the value of the education system has declined. Many now crowd ipelegeng and other voluntary schemes, forced to earn a measly living.
One software engineering graduate says he appreciates what the government has done set up these schemes to reduce unemployment. “But the programmes aren’t really helping us,” he says. “On the other hand private companies aren’t hiring and choose to enjoy the cheap labour of interns.”
Employment statistics show that the youth are the largest number of Botswana’s jobless people. The National Internship Programme, started in 2009, is a way in which employers can absorb graduates and keep them from idling on the streets, and aiding them in acquiring experience in different professions. Largely for degree holders, it also caters for students who have done course in areas where they are scarce skills.
“Why does the government spend so much money on students and afterwards it does not employ them?” the software engineering student asks.
The challenges of unemployment are forcing youths to develop new survival instincts.
On February 8 this year, a group started on social networks called “BW JOBS FOR GRADUATES”. It has become a non-profitable organisation registered under the Ministry of Home Affairs. The group was formed by 14 inspired and motivated young people who are determined to make a positive contribution to the lives of other graduates by sharing posts about different professions.
Recently, the government introduced the Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) with the aim of providing training opportunities in the private and public sector.
“The programme was meant to take in a large number of unemployed youths around Botswana but we still have a large number who are jobless and have nothing to do,” said another graduate, who refused to give her name. “My ambition is to start a poultry business but trouble is I don’t have the capital for starting up,” she said. “I once applied for the youth grant but I never received any positive feedback. Our government should focus more on this issue of unemployment because it is burying the future of the youth.
Kehentse, who withheld his other name, is a security guard with a BA in Marketing. “I found it wise to step forward and take this job after looking fruitlessly around in companies for something to suit my qualifications. Life is tough and money doesn’t fall from heaven. The little I get from this job is better than nothing.”
Kehentse says since 2008, he has been applying unsuccessfully for entry into the internship programme. “There are many graduates with my qualification because it’s offered by many schools,” he said. “I think the government should reduce the number of students who venture into this course because most are not absorbed by the industry.”
Tshenolo, 23, says its time the youth seriously started creating their own business ventures. She said they can no longer afford to depend on the government because too many of them are unemployed.
“Let’s group ourselves according to our professions and apply what we learnt at school,” she urges fellow youth. “I did fashion design and now I’m designing different costumes. The problem is I have no money to advertise my things.”
Knowledge is power, she says. “Let’s be creative and innovative. We just need a new way of doing things so that we become our own boss.”