The unemployment rate among young people is extremely high in South Africa, ranking among the highest in the world. Unemployment is extremely high among its young people, accounting for a whopping 63% of those between the ages of 15 and 24. A significant number of these youngsters have never held a job in the conventional sector of the economy. 

Young adults who are unable to find gainful employment are frequently portrayed in the media as being inactive, listless, and estranged from normal society. Individuals who are without work are portrayed in this image as a “ticking time bomb” that constitutes a danger to the equilibrium of a nation. This image plays into the fears that crime, violence, and social unrest will occur. 

This is a Very Inaccurate Portrayal of the Situation

The vast majority of studies on young folks who are jobless fail to address the actuality that joblessness in the context of “doing nothing” isn’t an option that can reasonably be considered for most young adults. Research conducted in many countries across Africa, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe, has shown that young adults without jobs utilize a diverse range of economic methods and strategies to generate revenue for themselves. 

In 2015 and 2016, we conducted research in the Zandspruit rural settlements, which are located north of Johannesburg. Our focus was on the lives, livelihoods, and difficulties of the residents, the majority of whom were young men who were homeless and jobless or only marginally employed.

It consisted of life and employment history discussions with 37 young people, a study of 100 young folks, and a mapping exercise of the local economy, which included semi-structured interviews with 40 local entrepreneurs. According to the findings of my research, a significant number of young people who are not employed participate in a wide range of economic activities. Even though many of these activities aren’t technically considered forms of self-employment or informal sector, they still take up a significant portion of young people’s time and energy. 

Survival Strategies

We discovered that people make a living by renting out back rooms or shacks, providing informal auto repair services, and operating car wash businesses. Other activities included offering to wire illegal electric supplies in exchange for a fee and conducting gambling operations on the street. They also obtained sponsorship from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and lawmakers in the community, which allowed them to support community-based organizations and local projects that assisted local youth in accessing opportunities for education and employment. 

These methods of making a living were seldom organized into the form of a business or an enterprise. Many youngsters in Zandspruit supplemented their income by engaging in various forms of “hustling” and self-employment in addition to their formal employment. In many cases, people turned to less conventional means of making a living after they either lost their jobs or were unable to find new ones. There was also evidence that young men were choosing self-employment in the informal sector over low-paying jobs in certain low-wage industries. 

This demonstrates a desire for higher social independence and social power, both of which were denied to them by low-end wage employment.  It also demonstrates the significance of investing in highly localized connections despite the insecurity that pervades society as a whole. These unofficial means of support are ingrained in the networks and social relations that are essential for young people to maintain to survive unemployment. 

Consider the Example of a Business That Washes Cars

Our research shed light on the fact that, even though it is frequently analyzed as a stand-alone business or enterprise, it also functions as a point of connection for a thick web of social interactions that underly and connects a variety of informal businesses. The transport system (drivers and washers), unofficial mechanics, a chesanyama (a braai joint), and the local drug trade were among these businesses. 

In addition, a car wash offers a place for young men, the vast majority of whom also make their living informally, to congregate for socializing and passing the time. These interpersonal networks are an essential component for young men to cultivate to increase their leverage within a specific sector of the regional economy. In addition to this, they are an important source of male socialization and mutual assistance, which one young man referred to as “communal living.” 

The young men who assemble at the car wash stand to entertain themselves and “hustle” a living are predicated on a knowledge of “flexible reciprocity” in their relationships with one another. This means that those who presently have money or are hired in some capacity help those who are not in either of those situations. These informal groups of support provided a form of “insurance. In addition, the social relations that were fostered through their use facilitated the development of alternative means of financial support. 

The social integration of informal employment can be both a benefit and a drawback to those involved. In contrast, these interdependent relationships are an important source of support and unity. On the other hand, the relations are rooted deep within intricate power dynamics, which have the potential to perpetuate different kinds of social distinction and disparities. 

They also demand that informal business owners invest a significant amount of money in personal relations, fees, and security, which results in many of them having very little money left over to invest in the growth of their businesses. 

What Exactly Must Be Carried Out

Because the formal economy is unable to generate a sufficient number of jobs, policymakers and authorities frequently propose self-employment opportunities within the informal sector as a solution to the problem of youth unemployment. 

For example, the government of the province of Gauteng has recognized the predominantly unformal “township economy” as a vital component in the fight against unemployment and the promotion of entrepreneurialism. Traditionally, townships have been designated as black urban residential areas. In most cases, they are characterized by low levels of development as well as high poverty rates. 

The recent resurgence of interest in what is known as the “township economy” is significant when taking into account the high rates of unemployment and poverty, as well as the damaging legacy left behind by the apartheid government’s policy of township marginalization. It was never the intention for townships to have independent economies; rather, they were intended to serve as labor dormitories for white businesses in nearby towns and suburbs. 

However, the government’s interest in township economic systems as the creators of jobs, entrepreneurial opportunities, and “inclusive societies wealth” is disastrously unaligned with the reality of the majority of township businesses. They are not sufficient to provide an opportunity to rise above poverty. Studies indicate that only a small percentage of young people view entrepreneurialism as a viable way to make a living and as something to aspire to, even though the concept of entrepreneurship is gaining popularity among this demographic. 

The majority of people express a strong preference for secure jobs in the formal sector, which they connect with economic security and the opportunity to advance in one’s social standing. The increasing precariousness of employment in the formal economy draws attention to the critical need for enhanced forms of social protection and financial assistance for young people.