Desperate to escape poverty
‘In this place, when you wake up in the morning, you don’t know whether it is your last day or not,” says Christofer Cloete (21), who lives in the heart of the gangster-infested suburb of Gelvandale in Port Elizabeth.
Cloete is one of many young people desperate for work in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
Unemployment figures have risen to a record high, according to Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey, which was released this week.
The DA’s mayoral candidate for Port Elizabeth, Athol Trollip, says one in three people in the metro are unable to find work and unemployment is “increasing to crisis levels”.
Cloete says gangsterism will continue to plague the northern areas of Port Elizabeth for as long as youth are unemployed and kept on the periphery of business opportunities.
Young people in his community are being forced into gangsterism because of their socioeconomic conditions – they are desperate, angry and disillusioned with a system they believe has forgotten about them.
Youngsters roam aimlessly in the streets with poverty, sadness and anger written on their faces. The streets are busy as children play cricket and soccer to kill time.
Cloete says he used to be a gangster, but left that life when he was arrested for selling drugs – mostly dagga – to other gang members. He now rents a back room in Stanford Road for his spaza shop.
He dropped out of school in Grade 7 because he did not want to be a burden on his poor and unemployed parents.
Cloete has since registered a construction company in the hope of getting small construction jobs, but says even that is proving difficult – small construction jobs in the township are being given to politically connected people.
He criticises the metro for the lack of service delivery in his area, and says he would love to meet Mayor Danny Jordaan and tell him in person how he and his people are suffering despite government’s promises.
Jordaan, speaking on Wednesday during the launch of an innovative business incubation centre by telecommunications provider Telkom in Port Elizabeth called FutureMakers, said the metro had an unemployment rate of 36%.
Jordaan welcomed the launch of the FutureMakers programme, which is aimed at helping entrepreneurs establish and grow their businesses and create jobs.
He said the city was implementing the five-year Integrated Development Plan. The council plans to create jobs by tapping into the ocean economy. About 130 000 ships travel past the Nelson Mandela Bay coastline per year, but they don’t stop to refuel at the metro.
Jordaan said: “We must turn and look to the ocean again. There is a huge potential and many possibilities.”
He said the metro signed and established an agreement with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University to unlock billions of rands related to the ocean economy.
The metro has also encouraged luxury cruise liners to stop at the metro, which has two ports, the Port of Port Elizabeth and the Port of Ngqura.
He said he appreciated the automotive industry, which had made a huge contribution to the city’s economy and continued to do so, but it could not absorb everybody who was looking for a job.
The city was developing new tourism products and was also looking at options in agriculture.
“This is the new future that we have captured in our plan for the next five years,” he said.
On Tuesday, Jordaan visited Helenvale, which is just next to Gelvandale. Cloete could not go to the event because it took place on turf belonging to opposition gang members.
Jordaan acknowledged that this was a poor community and said people needed help to learn to generate income through supporting small, medium and micro enterprises, which would in turn create jobs.
Dorothy Stuurman, who is a ward committee member for the ANC in Gelvandale, says many youngsters with matric and tertiary qualifications are unemployed.
Stuurman has three children and earns R1 000 a month for her ward committee work. She says it is hard to make ends meet, which leads to many youngsters joining gangs.
“People here, they don’t want gangsterism, but they see it as their way of escaping poverty,” she says.
OUT OF OPTIONS Christofer Cloete (21) plays cricket with local children on a street in gang-ridden Gelvandale, Port Elizabeth. In an attempt to make ends meet, he opened a small spaza shop when he decided to stop being a gangster. Inset: Mayor Danny Jordaan