The recently released Labour Force Survey indicates that 364,411 people were unemployed in Namibia. That figure represents an unemployment rate of 33.4 percent of the labour force. Out of that figure 265,770 were young people between the age of 15 and 24 years. How do the unemployed people cope or find means of livelihood?
A casual survey of how people find means of survival indicates a variety of strategies people employ to make a leaving. The Hidas Area in Klein Windhoek provides a sample of coping strategies of how people deploy their ingenuity to make a leaving. Here you find street youth who depend on good Samaritans for survival. I frequent this area because it is part of my neighbourhood. These youth would always greet me: “How are comrade!” Indeed, the effect of such a greeting evokes sympathy. I would fork out a five dollar to give to the comrades.
Another group is that of “yellow jackets”, the car guards. They will approach you and offer to look after your car. If you agree the service will cost any thing between N$5 toN$10. The car guards divide the parking area into their territories. Each car guard knows the boundary of his parking area. Such boundaries have to be respected.
The newspapers vendors position themselves at the entrance of the Hidas Building. They compete for customers. The other day one of them got upset when he wanted me to buy a news paper and I told him that I do not know how to read. He took offence to my ignorance. I calmed him down by saying that next time I shall buy his news papers since I am enrolled in a literacy class!
On the other side of Nelson Mandela Avenue, opposite Hidas Centre you will find a group of car washers. They compete for business when a motorist parks around the area of Klein Windhoek Post Office. They charge between N$ 20 to N$30. However, car owners are in most cases in a hurry and do not allow car washers to do their business.
The “shamwaris” or brothers from Zimbabwe are expert hawkers. They sell yellow flowers from river beds, cheap lady bags from China town and all sorts of trinkets. They walk long distances from shopping mall to another shopping mall. They are hard working and determined to survive whatever the odds.
Charcoal production is another coping strategy of unemployed youth. Charcoal producers operate as independent producers. They sell charcoal to processors and packers.
Depending on tonnage produced, charcoal producers earn a reasonable income. In fact, charcoal production is one of the economic activities which is not affected by the current economic down-turn. The majority of charcoal producers are young people from southern Angola.
These coping examples illustrate the fact that behind the statistics there is a human face. The data released by the Statistics Agency represent real people who are struggling to survive. Some are looking for jobs. Others are sitting on street corners waiting to be picked up for a casual job such as off-loading a truck, cleaning a yard or pruning a tree.
Youth unemployment is therefore a story of human interest. This situation requires national attention. Greg Mills, Olusegun Obasanjo, Jeffrey Herbst and Dickie Davis in their seminal book, Making Africa Work, noted that “… the challenge faced by African States can be addressed only if States grow their economies and generate jobs”. They warned that the risks stemming from large number of digitally connected youth without jobs are high.
They urged African policy makers to focus on improved education and skills, the creation of suitable infrastructure and enhancement of systems to employ young people. They further urged African leaders to put policies in place to gradually transition jobs from informal sector to the formal sector. They concluded that failure to concentrate on growth could ensure a demographic disaster and a spur for social unrest.
Researcher Tuyeni Kandume has unearthed data on the youth who could not access vocational education and training. Kandume documented the plight of 43,878 youth who applied to be admitted to vocational training centres but were turned away during 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, the Namibia Institute of Mining and Technology (NIMT) is struggling to survive. NIMT is a flag ship of vocational education. NIMT has branches in Keetmanshoop and Tsumeb besides its main campus in Arandis. For many years NIMT has produced competent artisans. If NIMT collapses the Namibian economy shall be the poorest.
The Vocational Education and Training Levy quarterly progress update recently reported that to date N$1,65billion was collected. Of that amount N$1,53 billion was allocated to “strategic commitments”. One wonders whether NIMT is not a strategic commitment.
The challenge of youth unemployment calls for a sense of urgency on the part of our leaders. The aspirations of Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein to stimulate economic growth and to create decent jobs should be the starting point of providing young people with opportunities of jobs and income. However, for this to happen the whole Government should act as a competent steward of the economy. Greg Mills et al advises: “Reform necessities fundamentally changing the way in which African economies work”.
They emphasized: “… It means being open to international trade and capital rather than aid, being reliant on enterprise rather than personalised and patronage-ridden systems, while the aim of government should be private-sector growth rather than public-sector redistribution”. That is the way forward!