Ayanda Kota, of the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM), was recently revealed as one of the signatories of Ronnie Kasrils’ “Vukani! No Vote” campaign. He is a seasoned activist and an outspoken critic of the state. UYANDA SIYOTULA for SOUTH AFRICA VOTES 2014 spoke to him about unemployment in South Africa and 20 years of democracy.
Tell us a little more about the organisation: when did it start and what is its purpose?
Ayanda Kota: It is a grassroots movement that started in 2009. It was formed because it was only the politicians that were talking about the unemployment and the unemployed. And when they were talking about it, they were not giving the human face; it was just figures, the statistics. So we wanted to see that change.
Unemployment in South African is very high; what do you have to say about that?
Ayanda Kota: The unemployment rate is very high and it is mostly the young black people that are without jobs. As UPM we realised that we could no longer be spectators; we needed to intervene for the poor.
Do you think the ruling party is doing enough to curb the high unemployment rate?
Ayanda Kota: No, I cannot say it is doing enough [where] unemployment is this high. There are a lot of young people that are sitting [at] home doing nothing because there are no job opportunities. The government has failed them. The education system in the country is very poor; I mean if we have a 30% pass rate, the standard of education is getting lower and lower. How are we going to create employment under such circumstances?
What are the causes of unemployment?
Ayanda Kota: There is no commitment from the government whatsoever. The poor are not being taken care of; their voices have been disregarded. Their struggles are not catered for by the government, even in politics, and in the economy they are the least important people. The only people that are advancing in life are the elite. And the poor are becoming poorer while the rich are getting richer. Unemployment is a crisis in the country and we are the first movement that is effectively fighting for a change and representing every poor South African. I mean, the government is part of the problem, so it cannot be part of the solution.
What can be done do create employment?
Ayanda Kota: We need a government that is active in the economy. At the moment we care busy campaigning for a right for everyone to have a Basic Income grant (BIG). We believe that as South Africans we are all entitled to a basic income, so we want it to be included in the Constitution. It does not help to have a house when you do not have work. All the political parties that are campaigning did not include the right to work. South Africa is a democratic country and a right to work is democratic right. So we stand on the principle that a person must either have a decent job or be given a basic income. If unions like Numsa (National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) are determined to intergrate and fight for the unemployed then we are prepared to support that.
Twenty years of democracy: would you say this is the democracy we imagined?
Ayanda Kota: No, the democracy is only for the few elites in the country. Over the 20 years, unemployment has gone up. The needy have no freedom; the rate of poverty has also gone up. The issue of land has always been a problem and even now there is still not clear way forward, the land belongs to the people, so we demand land reform. Democracy is the democracy of the people, for the people, by the people. So the people did not want poorness for the people, they did not want joblessness for the people. So it is definitely not the democracy we wanted for South Africa. DM
Photo: Ayanda Kota.