By ROD AMNER and SIVE FAITH GINYA
A small ‘army’ of around 2000 local youth has been employed by the Social Employment Fund (SEF) to revitalise the city until March.
They are fixing potholes, cleaning up illegal dumping sites, fixing schools, planting gardens, recycling waste and working for a range of local nonprofit organisations.
Over 1500 are being managed by the National Arts Festival (NAF) based at the Monument, while the rest are working through the Assumption Development Centre, Awarenet and Assitej. The organisations have brokered internships for unemployed people until March next year for R23.19 per hour. The interns work an average of 15 hours a week.
The SEF was announced by Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel in June. It has created 50 000′ common good’ jobs in rural and semi-urban communities around the country. It is one of the strategic interventions under President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Employment Stimulus package, announced under lockdown in October 2020.
National Arts Festival (NAF) CEO Monica Newton said the Grahamstown Foundation had approached the Social Employment Fund with a project “quite different from the National Arts Festival”.
“The Foundation Board decided it was important to do something that helps the city we operate in. We can’t expect the city to be somehow everything that we want it to be. If we did that, we would be part of the problem. How the city looks and receives visitors is important to the National Arts Festival and us,” Newton said.
“We are filling potholes where we can, cleaning up dump sites and working in public parks to beautify those spaces and impact the quality of life in Makhanda. At the same time, we are helping to create more employment than we would ordinarily do concerning our festivals like the National Arts Festival and SciFest and our other events.
The Foundation started working with the first group of Social Employment Fund employees at the National Arts Festival, and they subsequently worked for SciFest.
The Foundation is working in partnership with Makana Municipality, Makana Revive, and others offering to help.
“In our experience, this is an ever-giving city. Its people are very interested in helping,” Newton said.
Anybody can contribute by offering a couple of pots of paint or paint brushes, or garden tools. “Tools and materials would be gratefully received – we’ve got such a mountain to climb.”
“Most importantly, we’ve needed to recognise that youth unemployment is a massive issue in the city that’s having an enormous impact on everybody.
SEF employee Lionel Blaauw said he was thrilled about the work opportunity. For a change, he now has an income to help him put something on the table, which will make a massive difference in his life.
Newton said it was important for the SEF projects to work with partners. “We don’t want to replace the outstanding volunteer initiatives in the city, like River Rescue and the work being done by Pick n Pay and Caltex and Makana Revive.
Dagmar and Andrew Kirk’s business started to provide Makana Revive with innovative products developed for Makhanda, Newton said.
“Dagmar is working with us on our road project, teaching us how to fill potholes. If only it were as simple as tossing some tar into a hole, potholes would be easy to fix. There’s real technology to it, and Dagmar is 100% passionate about it.”
How many people does it take to fill a pothole?
A recent comment on Facebook read: “How many people does it take to fill a pothole?”
“Well, lots, actually,” said Newton. “First, because we have many people – we need to create employment. But also, the pothole needs to be edged, the pothole needs to be cleaned, and then it needs to be sealed. Water is the enemy of pothole repair. There is a slurry that goes into the hole that seals it off. And then there’s a kind of a tar pack packed into the hole.
“We’ve been working with local entrepreneurs and volunteers and trying not to trip over each other. So we’ve delineated specific spaces where we’re working; for example, our teams are working around Joza and the eastern side of town. We are keen to match the energy and effort in the west with activity in the east.
“We also have some big projects starting in the local schools, in partnership with Umthathi Training Project, who is also one of our great partners. We are doing food gardens in schools and some maintenance and repairs,” Newton said.
At the recent Speaker of Parliament’s Back to School programme, many brave young learners stood up in the Guy Butler auditorium full of people and spoke about some of the challenges that they’re facing.
“We are trying to see what we can do to help. If we bring some hands, paint, and tiles and fix some toilets, hopefully, that will contribute to a better working environment for schools.
Newton hoped the initiative could be extended beyond this first-year test case.
“We have a great partnership with the Industrial Development Corporation in running the Social Employment Fund. The IDC is constantly discussing with Treasury and the Presidency about phase two of the Social Employment Fund.
“But, of course, the proof of the pudding is in our ability to deliver on these 50,000 jobs and contribute to the community.
“Hilton, our project manager, will tell you we pull hundreds of bags of rubbish out of illegal dumping sites daily across the city. Makana is helping us remove some of the big trash to the dump.
“There is so much for us to do – there is still a huge mountain to climb. But we can do some good and train and employ some people along the way. As difficult and as complex as it is, that’s what we’re going to do. When you start the ball rolling, suddenly you find interesting people, you know, and there’s so much going on in Makhanda. We are open to talking to people to explore possible partnerships,” Newton said.
Appeal for materials
The project is labour-rich but materials poor. Buco and other local businesses like REMAX have chipped in.
“But, we’d like more businesses and residents to come forward in whatever way they can. We need paint, toilet flushing mechanisms, garden tools, etc. We have just ordered 50 000 bags for the collection of rubbish. That’s the scale of the problem we are facing.
“Despite how disappointed people might be in local government and the frustrations of daily living when the city pulls together to work together, amazing things can happen,” she said
ADC, Awarenet and Assitej
ADC and Awarenet are working with the Learning Trust, a national project with many sites across the country. In Makhanda, there are a couple of other sites as well. Assitej, the Children’s Theatre Advocacy Network, also is working on some local projects.
“The city has incredible institutional capacity – we are positioned to operationalise the Social Employment Fund. But, there is also a great need – rightly or wrongly, Makhanda has a strong public profile as a city facing multiple challenges. Everybody just nods their heads because there’s been so much media coverage. The projects in Makhanda indicate that the national government sees our issues,” Newton said.
Makhanda’s 80 000 residents make up just 0.13% of South Africa’s population – but we have scooped 4% of the 50 000 SEF jobs (2000 jobs).
“Various partners across the city are trying to say, ‘Sign us up – we are ready to do different things’,” Newton said.
“And we are prepared to struggle because, my goodness, this is very different from our day job. I find myself wondering and worrying about potholes. This is about just how we all need to approach things a little bit differently.
“Some things will work and some won’t, and we’ll wish we’d done some things differently. But the reality is, overall, I believe it will be a very good thing.
No more jobs for this round
Newton said many young people were still flocking to the Monument asking about job opportunities. Unfortunately, these opportunities have now come to an end.
“We have reached the threshold of jobs we can create in this round,” Newton said.
Assumption Development Centre
Joza’s Assumption Development Centre (ADC) has committed to placing 117 unemployed people in local organisations and businesses as interns.
The ADC, a skills training and small business development centre, is one of several partner organisations that have received a grant from the Social Employment Fund to help fight unemployment.
“We look for organisations that can help the interns develop sustainable skills that will improve their employability in the future,” said Masonwabe Nduna, ADC’s programme coordinator.
Government funding to fix roads
At the recent Makana Residents Association and Grahamstown Business Forum meeting, GBF chairperson Richard Gaybba said R30 million was being made available for repairing Makhanda’s roads. Over 80% of that goes to labour and 20% to materials.