Maverick Citizen


Young people in Soweto are hustling for themselves rather than waiting for jobs promised by government

Young people in Soweto are hustling for themselves rather than waiting for jobs promised by government
Umhlaba Wama Nakhunja: The group started in 2022. Their home situations are not okay, so they decided to do something to make it better. (Photo: Tshabalira Lebakeng)

Young people from Soweto are no longer waiting for the government to spoon-feed them. They say it will take too long to get jobs as they get older and more hungry. Maverick Citizen went out to meet some of them to understand how they’re creating their own jobs.

First, I met a group of young people dancing near the robots in Carolina, Orlando. They call their group Mahlaba Wama Makhunja, which means “the world of hustles”. They get money from motorists. 

When the robots are red they stand in front of the cars and dance. They dance like it’s their last chance to showcase their work, or it’s their last day in this world. Because they need to make money: no money, no food.

youth umhlaba wama nakhunja

Umhlaba Wama Nakhunja, a group of ‘hustlers’ from Mzimhlophe, Soweto. They say dancing is their business, because the money they make puts bread on a table. (Photo: Tshabalira Lebakeng)

Ntokozo Zuma (17) from Mzimhlophe, Soweto, said the group started in 2022 “because their home situation is not okay”. So they decided to do something to change it.

“People can look at us as if we are coming here to play, but what we are doing here, it’s not a joke. It’s a business; we respect it because it’s putting bread on the table. So if you want your business to be respected, you must work hard to show the people that you love what you’re doing.”

“You can see we are using the empty cold drink crate in our dance to show our audience that we are creative. It takes time to master what we are doing to fly a crate in the sky and catch it without hurting ourselves,’’ he said.

Zuma said they don’t smoke or drink alcohol because “doing those things is like putting money in the toilet. Celebrities like Somizi Mhlongo and others make a living by dancing and choreographing. So it shows that art is a big business… you can buy your family a house through the dance business.

“The money we make here helps us to be clean when we’re going to school. We buy shoe polish, bath soap and have breakfast before we go to school. If we are not opening our own business while we are young, we won’t have money when we are old. We are hustlers… no time to sleep, time is money,’’ said Zuma.

One of the group members, Sinommeli Mthembu (15), also from Mzimhlophe, said they perform for the whole day.

They started performing in Florida “but now we moved to Orlando. At the Florida robots, the traffic officers were chasing us away. So there was no business any more. This is our bread and butter… my mother gets excited when I come back with some money.

“Performing here is not about money only. It’s also our marketing strategy. Because we have hope that maybe someone big in the industry of dancing will see us and help us to do our work on the big stages in the world,” he said.

Mthembu says one day they will buy houses for their families. His father told him that he must work hard to have a bright future.

“Some motorists are taking us as criminals… they’re closing car windows when we are dancing for them. We are not criminals, we are working at the robots. We’re feeding our families by doing this type of work.’’

One body, a thousand hands

youth eldridge rehlapfu

Eldridge Rehlapfu (left) from Diepkloof, Soweto, says working in a family business helps him to have a source of income in a failing economy. (Photo: Tshabalira Lebakeng)

Eldridge Rihlampfu (25), from Diepkloof, Soweto, said it’s a problem that young people study for three or six years, but when they finish their education, they don’t get a job. Also, some of the young people, if they don’t get the job they studied for, (they) don’t want to do other things to make money.

“I was working somewhere, but the contract ended in 2021 so now I’m working at my mother’s business. I’m a manager. On the side, I do photography and videography to make extra money. It’s not that I don’t work for other people.

“Doing photography and videography is to create more than one source of income. I can work for companies for five to six hours. Look at our economy, it’s broken, so one source of income, I won’t survive with it.

“In this business, we have lots of competitors. You can see from corner to corner you find fast food shops. So there is a lot of competition. If you walk around Diepkloof, you see all the fast food shops are buying the same spices and sauces. Me, I create my own spices and mix my own creative delicious sauces. That’s what makes my food different from others,’’ he said.

Rihlampfu said he is still young and “kicks his blankets early in the morning” to prepare warm food for his people. “Especially the taxi drivers, they need food in the morning”. He wants to impress upon his mother that he can do the job alone.

“I take it as my own business because I’m the only child.”

Young people love his food because it’s clean and fresh. For him to make money, he is no longer buying potatoes, oil and other shop stuff from middlemen. He goes to town and buys what he needs, rather than paying someone to get him something in town.

Rihlampfu’s dream is to open more businesses in Soweto to make more money to survive in these difficult times. What he likes about community business is that “money is circulating around the people… it’s not going out”.

“Our education system is delaying us. What if I don’t want to study technology, but I know I would like to be a builder or a plumber? So you’re telling me I have to wait in a classroom learning things that are not working for me. Why don’t we start studying what we want to be in the future?

“Maybe after high school, I go to study building houses rather than going to university to do what I don’t want to do. That is why other children out there are sitting doing nothing because they can see it will take years to get what they want.

“Our country is too slow to provide for young people. There are few chances to get a job that you studied for in South Africa. That is why I’m not focusing on what I studied – I have side businesses as a young man in Soweto.’’

‘I’m not a Mama’s boy’ 

youth mbuso ntuli

Mbuso Ntuli, a grade 10 learner from Orlando, Soweto said he works on weekends because he is still at school. He needs to begin making money while he’s still young. (Photo: Tshabalira Lebakeng)

Mbuso Ntuli (16) from Orlando said he and his friends opened a car wash in October 2022. Seeing that life is difficult, they decided to open their own business. Sitting at home watching television won’t feed them.

“I’m working on weekends because I’m at school. I’m in Grade 10 and I like school. I feel proud when I’m able to give my parents some money to help in the house. But I make sure my schoolwork is up to date when I go to work with my friends.

“I’m not a mama’s boy… I need to do something for myself. I can’t ask my mother to buy me a pen or to give me lunch money every day. When I’m 18, I want to have my own business, I don’t want to depend on other people. I want to be a well-known person one day.” 

Ntuli says times are tough.

“There are no handouts. People are struggling, so there is no time for annoying other people to buy you food or clothes. It’s scary out there, people are robbing other people because there are no jobs.”

He says he doesn’t want to do crime so it’s better to start earlier to create a job for himself. Adults are complaining that there are no jobs, and money is losing value.

“Children my age are smoking drugs, but I want to be different. I want to finish school and continue with washing cars… if I’m lucky I will get the job of my dreams of being a policeman and put an end to crime,” said Ntuli.

Finish school or start a business?

youth ntokoza Mhlongo

Ntokozo Mhlongo from Diepkloof, Soweto, said she started researching how to make it in the sandwich business because she’s not sure she will get the job of her dreams when she finishes university. (Photo: Tshabalira Lebakeng)

Ntokozo Mhlongo (23), from Diepkloof, said she is studying law. It will take years and she must think about her next plan of making money because it’s not guaranteed that she will get a job with her qualifications in South Africa.  

“I’m already researching how to make sandwiches. I want to have a sandwich business that will help me to have money. Kunzima abantu abawutholi umsebezi, ngiyafunda ngoba kufanele. But kunzima ngaphandle. (It’s difficult, people don’t get jobs. I’m studying because I have to. But it is difficult out there),’’ she said.

She said people who finished studying law before her are still looking for jobs. She is worried about her future. That is why she is “having a space of disappointment in her heart that maybe she will not get a job”.

“That is why I want to start a business, the sooner, the better. My mother always says ‘the R20,000 that I’m paying every year for your university, it’s a big risk because I don’t know whether you will get a job’.

“What makes me sad is when you find big ministers having fake qualifications. That’s when I ask myself whether I’m doing the right thing to study. Or am I just taking my parents’ money to the university for sweet nothing? Maybe I have to drop out of school and sell bread and tea at the robots,’’ said Mhlongo. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • ernst.labuschagne4 says:

    I started working part time at 13, punched a till at Checkers, painted signs, worked weekends at a butchery – I tip my hat to these youngsters, they need all the help their communities can give, because our corruptment for sure isn’t going to do anything.

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