From one unemployed graduate to another: Sizoy’thola kanjani sihlez’ekhoneni?

Image by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

Being an unemployed graduate or active jobseeker can be discouraging and degrading, especially when it yields little to no results and you are faced with the economics of the stomach. However, the recent looting and vandalism of businesses in what has been dubbed a ‘failed insurrection’ in South Africa’s Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces is not the answer. South Africa’s unemployed, especially the youth, should move away from the employment-seeking mentality and come up with innovative ideas to become self-employed and build towards entrepreneurship, writes Ndweni Ndweni.

I sympathise with all the unemployed youth and qualified graduates sitting at home. I too am part of the discouraged jobseekers’ statistic. I recently joined the 7.2 million and counting unemployed people in South Africa, as per Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the fourth quarter of 2020.

I’m a three times graduate, awaiting a fourth international degree (a third postgraduate qualification), to be awarded later in the year.

Humble beginnings

The point of this piece is not to showcase the number of qualifications I have accumulated, nor is it to brag. It is to show that I too, like many of the country’s unemployed graduates, come from very humble beginnings and had to claw my way out of a life of poverty. So, I do not write this from a place of privilege. I just happened to be fortunate enough to be born with a decent pair of brains between my ears, coupled with a bit of luck, and managed to win awards to sponsor some of my studies.

My life 12 years ago, like that of any newly graduated person, started from ground zero. And I worked hard to accumulate a few assets over the years. But being the ever-curious and ambitious person that I am, I took a calculated risk to forgo my job security, including a good salary – all in pursuit of a greater new calling within the healthcare sector.

Now, two years later, I’m back home in SA while completing the dissertation for my MSc in Health Economics and Decision Modelling studies in the UK. Armed with my new knowledge in health economics (HE) and health technology assessment (HTA), I applied for vacancies in pharmaceutical companies and HE/HTA consultancies – to no avail.

One would think that with the current covid-19 pandemic and the healthcare crisis, it would be easy to get a job as a health economist and HTA modeller. But the fact is landing a steady job, even in journalism and communications (which were my first two career journeys), has been one uphill battle after another. To date, I have been on the job market for almost a year (my job-hunting process for employment in SA started prior to my return).

Back to my job search. I have been called to several interviews, but regrettably never got any of the positions advertised. I made a conscious decision very early on in the job-seeking process that I would not spiral into the ‘woe is me’ syndrome. I rolled up my sleeves and ventured into a new journey of being my own boss.

Image by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

Forced into self-employment

This covid-19 wrecked economy forced me into a self-employment adventure as a freelance journalist and independent communications consultant. I had always wanted to freelance…someday in the far away future. But with the economy on its knees, and businesses either shutting down or restructuring to cut down on costs, I had to use my decade -long experience as a financial journalist and communications manager to make a living.

I realise that most of the unemployed youth are fresh graduates with little to no experience. I was that graduate in 2006, equipped with a BSc degree, a frantic year-long job search and nothing to show for it. Simply put – I had no connections or social networks in circles that mattered. But I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship in pursuit of a postgraduate degree, which included a job placement on completion of my studies.

Personally, I use my unemployed graduate status as a driving force to build my brand because like a true born and bred ekasi (in the township) woman I believe in the saying: Uzuy ’thola kanjani uhlez ’ekhoneni (translated: how will you make a living sitting idle at the corner)? This is a very popular phrase that the hustlers, movers, and shakers ekasi live and strive by – and I’m proud to have joined the club.

Today, although an unemployed graduate in a new avenue, I am still fortunate to have a decent network built throughout the years, and I can leverage off this client base to kick-start the business.

Paving the road into entrepreneurship and a greater calling

Granted, we cannot all be entrepreneurs, but we can be self-employed (sole proprietors) as we eke out a living. eKasi, the concept of amatogo (‘piece-jobs’) is very familiar. I freelance, this is also a ‘piece job’. But I am my own boss and have the space to be as creative as I wish in my income generation strategy.  

Self-employment can lead into entrepreneurship as business grows and we create employment. But like any other business, it is tough in the beginning and you must make some sacrifices. I make a fraction of what I made as a fulltime employee and I have adjusted my lifestyle to live within my means. Also, owingto the inconsistent nature of amatogo, I made a sacrifice that would enable me to reduce my monthly living expenses and better manage my cashflow. I moved back home with my Dad in Soweto and now benefit from free-lodging. This is what several successful start-up owners did in the beginning because they understood that there is no shame in a little temporary discomfort for greater gains in the future.

My current living arrangement allows me enough financial breathing space to plan for essential fixed bills, while simultaneously serving as a driving force to build a financially sustainable business.

Connecting with people in the entrepreneurship space (regardless of industry), building your tribe in that space and collaborating on projects is conducive to growth in business.

The flexible freelance schedule affords me the opportunity to actively expand my network circle. I have recently connected with bright, like-minded people in the same sphere as my new calling and we have some amazing collaborations for the greater good, not only for South Africa, but other low-to-middle-income-countries worldwide.

So unemployed graduates, let us soldier on with our struggle for self-employment ngoba sizoy ’thola kanjani sihlez ’ekhoneni (because how will WE make a living sitting idle at the corner)?

Hauweng! (Let’s go!)

(Proofreading: Andrea Abbott; Blurb wordsmith: Helene van der Westhuizen )

Disclaimer: This is the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of SAFREA nor is it endorsed by SAFREA.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


One Response

  1. Amazing article! I can totally relate. After being unemployed for a while and actively job searching, to no avail, I decided to use my skills and my qualification to freelance. After almost two years of freelancing, I have made very useful contacts and networking has landed me clients, not only from South Africa but from all over the world. I enjoy being my own boss and I honestly don’t think that I’d go back to a 9-5. So you’re right, sis wam. Sizoy’thola kanjani sihlez’ekhoneni? Hauweng!

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