“The struggle for work in East London is hell”

Unemployed men wait on the side of the road for work

Photo of unemployed men

Sivuyile Mduzulwana (L) and Thembinkosi Gaqa (R) from East London stand along Amalinda Road every day, waiting for piecemeal jobs. Photo: Chris Gilili

By Chris Gilili

12 November 2018

Every morning Sivuyile Mduzulwana travels from his shack to stand along Amalinda Main Road in East London. He hopes that a passerby will stop and offer him piecemeal work. He has been doing this for nearly 18 years.

According to the Stats SA Quarterly Labour Force survey for the second quarter of 2018, the unofficial unemployment rate increased by 0.5 percentage points to 37.2% quarter to quarter. The Eastern Cape had the highest unemployment rate at 45.8%.

Mduzulwana, 45, left his home in Peddie in search for better employment prospects in East London almost 30 years ago. Mduzulwana lives in a backyard dwelling in Amalinda Forest with his girlfriend and their son.

He says he is a skilled tiler who on a good day makes up to R500. But most days, Mduzulwana, says he returns home empty-handed. “I pay R200 for rent a month and my girlfriend is also not employed but gets piece jobs now and then to wash clothes for people around Amalinda. This helps provide for our son,” he says.

“It gets difficult sometimes to a point where we have to use his child support grant to pay rent. Especially when jobs are scarce. I feel like a very big failure when I cannot provide for them.”

Mduzulwana says that the upcoming festive season brought some hope for him and the many others who also stand along Amalinda Road. “The festive season is good for us because many people want to renovate their homes and gardens. We survive on that. But there are also too many of us,” he says.

While GroundUp was visiting the spot on Saturday, one of the six men standing on the side of the road got a job. Thembinkosi Gaqa, 42, was one of the five men left behind. He has been living with his sister in Duncan Village after his shack burnt down in September. He has been standing in the Amalinda spot since 2015.

“It has been hard to piece my life together. The struggle for work in East London is hell,” he says.

“In 2006, I had a child with someone. He died of hunger, because both me and her mother were not working. I am skilled in gardening and waterproofing, but a week goes by without getting a job here. When I do get a job, I share whatever I have with my sister,” he says.

Elvis Ngamlana from Duncan Village says he wakes up about 6am and walks 8km to the Amalinda spot. He is skilled in painting, tiling and landscaping. He also depends on piecemeal jobs to survive.

“I am unemployed though I have skills I can use. But coming here is better than sitting at home. I am very patient because I know everyday is different. I sit here until 6pm at least and just hope my luck for work will come,” he says.