Addressing the issues of poverty in the context of South Africa is complex. The national unemployment rate has stubbornly hovered around 30%, with rural communities bearing the heaviest burden. In our own Mbhashe municipality, where we are located, we face an alarming 87% unemployment rate. This intractable problem has macroeconomic causes that individuals have little control over.
In this challenging environment, people in our community have historically relied on subsistence farming, government grants, and remittances from migrant workers to sustain their livelihoods. For nearly 20 years, we have been running our projects to not only provide essential services for our community but to create local jobs.
Today, Bulungula Incubator permanently employs 180 people, with over 90% of staff from our community. Furthermore, we work with government-funded employment programmes to create an additional 250 jobs for nine months, focusing on environmental preservation and road maintenance.
We partner with Independent Development Trust (responsible for implementing the Expanded Public Works Programme, “EPWP”) to recruit and manage extra jobs in our community. Working closely with our traditional community leaders, we ensure that 60% of these jobs are allocated to youth and 60% to women. Additionally, we hire three people living with disabilities to promote inclusivity and equal opportunity. We make sure jobs are fairly distributed across different families so everyone has a shot at employment.
The work carried out by EPWP workers serves several important purposes within our community, with a primary focus on road maintenance and waste collection. Our roads have deteriorated to a point where they are nearly impassable, posing safety risks to residents and threatening the viability of Bulungula Lodge, our community-owned backpackers, which relies on tourists travelling along these roads. Our EPWP workers have tirelessly maintained these roads for years, ensuring their drivability.
We don’t have access to waste refuse services, so people must incinerate or bury their trash. During heavy rains or floods, this waste can wash into rivers, the beach, and the ocean, posing a significant pollution risk. Our dedicated waste collectors play a vital role in reducing pollution and maintaining clean surroundings in our community.
The consistent provision of job contracts contributes to household incomes and provides a lifeline for families grappling with unemployment. We hope that the more jobs we create, the more skilled workers we can retain in our rural community, reducing the rural to urban migration which also helps strengthen family dynamics and community cohesion. Beyond the monetary gains, the initiative also gives unemployed, working-aged people a sense of purpose.
Although the challenge of unemployment remains unacceptably high in our community, we are proud of the significant growth over the past two decades. We’ve transitioned from a time when only a handful of job opportunities were available to now over 400 people who can work locally in our community.