George Gladwin Matsheke
I-Khona lo-Ngamla


I-Khona lo-Ngamla [(street) corner for whites]

At the beginning of my working phase… fine, we’ll call it ‘career’…I worked for LegalWise. I imagine that at some or other point you would have come across LegalWise, quite likely sternly directing you to command people to not talk to YOU but your lawyer, instead. I liked working at LegalWise, the people were nice; the clients were often entertaining; the money helped free my held-at-ransom University results ; and most importantly: I learned the invaluable lesson that there is no such thing as ‘staying out of work politics’, because work is politics… A little later, I forgot that lesson and that sure ‘showed me’.

That was the only time in my career that I, as a black person, counted as part of ‘a majority’ of an organisation’s workforce. Since LegalWise, I have not worked in any department nor been on any team where I, a black South African woman, was not ‘a minority’. I have even worked at organisations where the only other black people were the tea ladies, the cleaners and the drivers. It is quite absurd when you think about it: black woman… South Africa… minority. There are so many of us, in this country! There are so many of us that I (in this ‘overcrowded market’ – as a friend terms it) can’t even get a man, and when I do get one I know that I cannot afford to be selfish and must share with others; share, spread, ‘make a little go a long way’. Nevertheless, in the workplace, in South Africa, black women can be and often are ‘a minority group’.

That’s not the point though, at least not today. The point is that notwithstanding my minority disposition my colleagues- white colleagues- would never shy away from waxing to me quite lyrical about the struggle of the white person to get employed, in the New South Africa, in the face of affirmative action. ‘Reversed apartheid’ some would even term it…a very popular term these days. I asked one waxing colleague once to name a single friend of his who was duly qualified but struggling to find a job, he couldn’t. I asked him to name a friend of a friend, he could not. I could. I could name a few black friends, who were qualified, who were smarter, who were better than my colleague; who were better than I  [and trust me when I tell you that I was virtually Gaius (look him up) compared to my colleague] who couldn’t find employment. I had just been lucky to have been the chosen one, chosen to meet the requisite quota.

Of course my colleague’s inability to name and share did not stop him from raising the issue at the next available opportunity… but it did stop me from listening; perhaps a socially irresponsible approach but there is a certain tale, by one … rather once was… Aesop; about a certain boy who cried wolf. I couldn’t not listen for long however since my colleague was not the only one with white employment struggle concerns. In 2007, Alec Russell (acclaimed political journalist) interviewed musician, Bok van Blerk who too had concerns. Van Blerk was the ultimate in cool at that time, and chart-topping, having resurrected (of course figuratively) Second Boer War General (Koos) De La Ray. In his song and resurrection, van Blerk beseeches Koos to rise and lead the Boers; pledging that the Boers will fall around Koos as one. This is merely a loose translation of the crux of the song, of course. In the interview, van Blerk highlighted that his generation of Afrikaners (Bok was born in 1978) would say sorry no more, that “we” were in a new democracy and that “we” had moved on. It wasn’t particularly explicit who the “we’’ was but reading about the interview I got the sense that it was quite likely a command to black South Africans to ‘get over it’, as it is too often said by white South Africans. Van Blerk went on to say that his generation was fed up with being told that because they were white they could not get jobs. ‘You walk into an interview and are told “sorry”’ van Blerk said further, according to Russell. At that last bit, I wondered why anyone was inviting white people to interviews, only to tell them ‘sorry, you’re white, you can’t get the job’? Why invite them in the first place? Was it some sort of, ‘reversed apartheid’ joke? And who was this cruel joker? I also wished that Russell had asked van Blerk that question. No matter, however; as the joke or non-joke was not the point, the point was the employment/unemployment struggle which van Blerk was highlighting. The struggle highlighted by most white south Africans, English- and Afrikaans- speaking.  

This then brings me to the question which heads these here my rambling: entlek, likuphi i-khona lo-Ngamla?

Where are all these unemployed white people of van Blerk’s generation? Where are they hanging out during the day, while the employed are at work? I ask because if you take a drive around any township, during the day when the employed are at work, you’ll find most corners [ama-khona] manned by the blacks of my generation (I was born in 1984); in fact you may even find suburban corners manned by the blacks of my generation. I-khona, the corner, is where the unemployed black may be seen; in plain sight.

I think Zuma, and his government, ought to tell us where the duly qualified and yet unemployed whites of our generation are being hidden…if he survives October 7

In 2008 Renier Schoeman said that whites have never had it “so good”; he said that “wealth has been pouring out of their ears” and further that it is for white South Africans “business as usual”. We won’t believe Renier Schoeman though, having served the National Party just as well as the ANC one may even be allowed to say that he flows to wherever the sweeter waters flow, and there drinks the Kool-Aid … We shouldn’t listen to him…

…But we should ask the question: Likuphi i-khona lo-Ngamla?

Writer: Nomfundo Shezi           Photographer: Desiree Moila

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  1. +
    Katlego Modipane

    I'm always surprised by just how many people are there doing sweet fokol in the township whenever I make it home early from work. Its like every corner has its own people, men and women who are trying to survive. Some of them are qualified, some semi-qualified or highly experienced but they cant find jobs. Drive around the white neighborhoods at around the same time and you may bump into a gardner or maid or if you're lucky a few white people jogging or driving out of the yard in a Mercedes (know as iCargo ekasi). Its a sorry state of affairs!

  2. +

    Ever wonder why the discourse of black and white never stems any real soutions? Life is simply not just black and white, it is a technicoloured mess of grey.

    Opportunities are created - the despondent wait for opportunity to come, often waiting a very, very long time. Those who want to see change, need to get up off the couch and work hard to make change. Push the passion, develop the idea, master the art. Our African brothers and sisters from West and Central are naturally entrepreneurial but instead of learning from each other, we put each other at arm's length and compare ourselves with those who have had a century's headstart.

    It is not a them vs us thing, it's a self vs self thing. I'm sorry but in this day and age, in this vast world of possibility, if one can't find a job: one freelances, one volunteers, one interns, you get yourself out there! It's not about 'finding a job' anymore, it's about contributing to society, boosting the economy.

    Maybe the question we should all ask is, "How can I contribute?"

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