The newspaper headlines and radio stations shout out the terrible unemployment numbers – almost a third of our population is unemployed, almost half of our youth are unemployed. Shame, poor people, a lost generation, starvation, tears flow, politicians make promises of a million jobs... again, corporates offer scores of internships at the same time as they retrench thousands out of a revolving employment door. It’s a nightmare with no solution…or is it?
In Thembisa, Sizakele sits on a crate at a table full of snacks selling to the school kids, she’s been selling there for 26 years, 3 hours a day. She makes R 6 000 a month profit and has put her two children through varsity. She is one of 5 – 10 ladies per township school. There are 12 000 township schools, that’s 200 000 odd school sellers, considered unemployed, generating R1.2 billion in income.
In downtown Joburg 23-year-old Moipane wakes up at 3am and along with her brother and four staff, she cooks and sells 6 000 vetkoek a day, at R1 each, 7 days-a-week. She makes R3 000 a day profit. She’s officially unemployed. I ask her if she has a job, she laughs, no she says “anginamsebenzi, ngiyasebenza”. A play on words, I do not have work, I work. She is part of 50 000 kasi kos African food sellers turning over R97 billion a year. Across town Thelo in central Pretoria has eight large Sphatlo Paleis outlets selling more than 6000 kotas (kasi burgers) a day at R15 – R25 each. She’s also unemployed, she giggles! She just recently bought a Range Rover, not bad for the unemployed!
In Soweto Mandisa Mbasa lives in a four-room house in Pimville. What was a garage on the side is now a large spaza rented by a Somali for R7 500 a month. Behind her house are three backrooms, the larger iflati rents for R1 200, the amaroomi for R900 each. When I ask Mandisa how she earns a living she says she receives a social grant of R340 a month for each of her two kids. Stats SA has her down as unemployed, living off R340 a month, not the R11 000 she is earning from rental. Township backroom rentals generate R20billion a year in income; spaza rentals to mainly immigrants generate another R30billion a year in income.
What about the R10billion hair salon industry, the R3billion muti industry, the 250billion spaza sector, kasi home builders, mechanics, caterers, and more. The informal sector is huge, invisible to most and a vibrant economy.
We need to recognise that informal jobs are jobs, not survival or subsistence businesses. If we recognise and measure these, we will have a very different unemployment rate and we will give more significance to informal businesses. The unemployment figures should say 27% of the population is FORMALLY unemployed because INFORMAL jobs are not measured. If they were real, unemployment would probably be around 10 – 15%.
What we need is a focus on supporting and creating security for informal businesses. Municipalities, governments and financial institutions must adapt their regulations, laws and products to suit the market, instead of knocking the hawker off the pavement. We must recognise and support youth who are in the informal sector or who could start informal sector type businesses. New thinking is required.
Among the youth, we need to change our perception of what is considered a job. We have a system of education and aspiration which believes a job is an 8 to 5 situation with a payslip. This is not only outdated in South Africa today; it is outdated in the world. Jobs are sometimes informal, or sometimes you may have many jobs or income streams. This is the future, and when we can free ourselves from the ‘power of the payslip’ and instead aspire to be self-employed, and to find opportunities in the Kasinomic sector, then the opportunities are huge.
Prepare for a Kasinomic Revolution!
Written by GG Alcock, author of Kasinomic Revolution – The Rise of African Informal Economies