Youth in the Challenges of the Battle of Ekangala of Tshwane…
Across South Africa, the lives of young people are shaped by structural factors and policy interventions related to housing and employment over which they have no control. These determine the local availability of work, the functioning of housing markets and access to services in their neighborhoods.
read in Daily Maverick: Buying food or looking for work – the dire choice facing young South Africans
This article explores what we, in our larger research project looking at South Africa and Ethiopia call the work/housing link as experienced by the young people of the greater Ekangala region in Tshwane. It highlights the entanglement between the challenges and opportunities young people face in housing and their efforts to work or earn an income.
The young people we interviewed express clear aspirations around independence, building their own lives and intimacy and self-determination. They say they dream of a time when “I live my life and support myself”.
Yet many are struggling with the costs of daily living, especially transportation. This is aggravated when they live in the urban periphery.
Costs, including those of internet data, limit young people’s daily physical and online mobility, as well as their options for generating income or securing independent living arrangements. Financial burdens directly reduce young people’s ability to use education and training to move out of poverty. Many young people in Ekangala described dropping out of higher education due to prohibitive fees.
Agency under constraints: the housing “choices” faced by the young people of Ekangala
In Ekangala, houses built by the post-apartheid government provide many destitute families with free shelter and property of their own, as well as water, sanitation and electricity. For young people who cannot afford to live independently, this offers a home until adulthood, sometimes with a shared bedroom or for more privacy, in self-built outdoor accommodation.
Living with a family saves rent. For some young adults, family ties are comforting, others are frustrated by their addiction and lack of choice, but still appreciate having a place to sleep.
Young people contribute to household expenses when they can, but are sometimes supported by social allowances or income from relatives, including income from renting rooms in family courtyards.
“…it gives me…little privacy because I’m not left alone. At the same time, it’s also affordable to stay at home… I don’t have to pay rent, water and electricity, and I don’t have to buy food.
Some young people settle with a partner or children in self-built structures on informally populated land, gaining self-reliance, but often have to deal with poor conditions, including distant water, lack of electricity and temporary toilets.
Renting a room in the courtyard of a formal house provides better locality and relatively independent accommodation, but is not viable without a stable income.
Hustle and work in the greater Ekangala area
Job opportunities in the greater Ekangala region are rare and without qualifications, young people struggle to get a foot in the door. Factories in the Ekandustria business park, which mainly employ men, have proven to be particularly uncompetitive and unable to attract investors. Work has declined significantly due to business closures. The “hopes” line up outside the factory gates every day, but usually leave disappointed.
” … we have nothing. It’s dry here, and since there have been no more Ekandustria businesses… A lot of people don’t work, a lot of young people are just present here, so the only thing I think I can bear is to sell stuff.”
Opportunities in the economic hubs of Pretoria or Witbank, almost an hour away, are tempting, but prohibitive taxi fares and limited bus availability require leaving home at unsociable times like 2 a.m. in the morning.
As renting in these urban centers while job hunting is an unaffordable strategy, young people are forced to make impossible choices. In Ekangala, job security is mainly through connections and networks, and most young people feel excluded as a result. Young people are scrambling to generate income, trying out various opportunities to gauge their feasibility and growth potential. Their portfolios are diverse, oscillating between selling low-cost items, providing services, and seeking paid work.
They are often hampered by a lack of capital and limited access to Wi-Fi and viable local markets. Young people are working hard to learn new skills through self-study, via YouTube for example, and they appreciate free skills-upgrading opportunities and government-supported work experience.
The work/housing link
Work and housing are inextricably linked, especially for young people who often have little control over either, and often expect to ‘own’ both. Living in Ekangala proves to be a significant barrier to accessing work or training opportunities elsewhere, as expensive and infrequent transport fails to overcome the frictions of distance and time.
Locally, state-provided family homes support some home-based businesses, although municipal regulations governing businesses can sometimes hinder them. Spacious courtyards allow for the construction of backyard dwellings which can provide rental income.
With income, young people can move to an independent self-built structure, but unstable circumstances or difficult conditions hinder the viability of this, requiring a return to the family home. Access to affordable housing through family provides young people with spaces of relative comfort as they navigate their dreams and strive for economic independence.
Overall, the location of housing in relation to shifting sites of state intervention (such as Ekandustria, the historically government-supported industrial zone, but no longer) testifies to a changed policy, but also to the rise and the falling global-local economic rhythms and their immediate effects. on the inhabitants. And state investment in housing where people live but where there is significant economic decline or collapse is evidence of the political challenges of synchronicity.
We need to understand work in conjunction with housing, as a research problem and a policy issue, to ensure that they are addressed simultaneously so that young people have a chance to realize their dreams. Resources to help young people find work or earn a living are essential, as is the recognition that affordable and well-located housing is essential for sustainable urban living. SM/MC
Dr Paula Meth is a Lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield. She holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and her research focuses on the themes of housing, urban change, gender and violence in the Global South.
Sarah Charlton, Associate Professor, teaches at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. Her research focuses on housing policy and practice, state interventions in development, and people’s lived experiences in cities. She holds a PhD from the University of Sheffield.