Unemployed people march against youth preference in the jobs market

One of the demands of the protesters is an end to the prioritisation of youth employment at the expense, as they see it, of those who are over 35 years of age. Photo by Thembisani Dube

Preferences for youth employment are barriers for job seekers older than 35.

Organisations representing the unemployed gathered at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg and marched to the Constitutional Court to hand in a memorandum of grievances.

They want the chief justice to help abolish the government policy to prioritise the employment of youth when it comes to jobs and opportunities. The majority of unemployed people in South Africa, they say, are over the age 35 who were overlooked when they were under the age of 35.

However, the rate of unemployment among the youth, according to Stats SA, is much higher than the general rate of 43.2% in the first quarter of 2021. The youth jobless rate based on the expanded definition that includes discouraged job seekers now stands at 74.7%. 

“We feel the government is discriminatory and committing crime against its own people. We’ve been dumped and rendered useless. This is the age group that is suffering from various mental illnesses and has since became the target of evils such as prostitution, drugs and alcohol dependency due to poverty and unemployment,” said Mmatlou Tsipa, founder and chairman of the Forgotten Nation of South Africa which organised the march.

“Once you’ve turned 36 you are nothing – you no longer qualify for learnerships and internships. We were once under 35 and overlooked for these opportunities. Now we are over 35, where do we go? What must we do? …We feel government has created this mess. They must solve it,” he said.

Tsipa said they also want waivers from credit references, which is prejudicial and jeopardises their chances of getting jobs. “If you take longer finding a job those references become non-existent and you are disadvantaged.” The system of determining one’s credibility by doing a credit check before getting a job must also be scrapped, he said.

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The Forgotten Nation of SA also want government to create a labour desk to facilitate the employment of people over 35, where they may be retrained or employed directly because currently there’s no such support for the older generations of unemployed and no union or political party representing them.

Nothemba Notikinca from Daveyton, one of the participants in the march, is a 41-year-old mother of two. She obtained a National Diploma in human resource management and N2 in electrical engineering but has only worked for two years in retail. To get by, she survives through her small business and said she despises social grants. “I believe I’m young, capable and can do a lot for myself. I can’t depend on social grants. It’s just unfortunate that I’ve been applying and there is no response. Honestly, I think it is because of my age and the government has perpetuated the whole notion around age hence companies are taking advantage.

“Now with the upcoming local government elections they’ll be expecting the very same people over the age of 35 to vote for them but they can’t deliver anything for us. I think that’s really unfair.”

Another protester, Nomsa Mazibuko (46) is a mother of three from Soweto. She survives on children’s grants and what little work experience she has is in retail and as a cleaner. She has been applying and sending her CVs with no luck. She feels what is compounding the joblessness in the country is the influx of undocumented foreign nationals who take their jobs. “I know I sound xenophobic, but we want our jobs back. I can’t wait for the elections. We need a serious change in this country,” she said.

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To their dismay, when they arrived at the Constitutional Court, not one of the court officials was available to receive their memorandum. They vowed to return on the 16th of July more determined in their cause.

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