Closing the Gap

Closing the Gap


For young people who don’t have the means to study, the Upbeat Youth Centre offers a chance to learn a skill and gain a footing in the job market, writes Sizwe Sama Yende

The villages of KwaMhlanga in Mpumalanga are depressingly underdeveloped and poverty-stricken, but there is a place full of hope and dreams as one veers off the long stretch of the R573 Moloto Road – which snakes through Limpopo and Mpumalanga to Pretoria – on to the dust road approaching Tweefontein village.

It is a white building consisting of a small reception area, a classroom with 10 computers and an office. It sits among the village’s homes, but is separated by barbed wire fencing. Four pit latrines stand near the building. This is the Upbeat Youth Centre (UYC), a nonprofit organisation that began operating in 2010.

UYC’s core objectives are to develop skills among the unemployed youth in its community – such as computer and entrepreneurial skills – to provide work readiness programmes; support youth information networks and increase access to information resources that will help in their careers; to provide arts, sports, culture and heritage programmes; and to provide drug abuse and HIV/Aids prevention and education programmes.

KwaMhlanga is made up of about 30 villages. Situated in the Thembisile Hani Local Municipality in Vlaklaagte, it has a population of 310 000, more than 62% of whom are aged between 15 and 64.

Only 28% of this group have jobs.

The high unemployment rate and underdevelopment prompted the Mpumalanga government to place Thembisile Hani under the Comprehensive Rural Development Programme, which aims to create jobs in five other municipalities where the unemployment rate is about 38.4% and the poverty rate is above 50%.

UYC is there to help the younger members of the jobless population get a start in life. The project was initiated by local businessman and entrepreneur Amon Maseko to help bridge the skills gap. Maseko and his partner, Tshepo Malibe, put some money together to build the offices and buy computers and furniture to get the project off the ground.

UYC gives 50 young people a free computer skills course over a six-month period. Villagers who are not undergoing training benefit from the access to free internet, email facilities, job advertisement placement and application-form downloads, and help in compiling their all-important CVs.

UYC helps unemployed and unskilled youths such as Moleboheng Manyanetso (23) and Jan Masangu (23), who stand no chance in the job market without sufficient education or skills. Both share the same life story – they did not have money to study further after finishing Grade 12.

So they are now undergoing the training with the hope of gaining valuable skills when they venture into the job market.

Manyanetso says: “I wanted to go to varsity or college to study project management when I finished matric in 2009, but my parents did not have the money for my education. I think this course will give me a start.”

Masangu wants to be a professional photographer. Since finishing high school in 2012, he has been making a bit of money photographing villagers for R12 a photo.

“This is not enough to live on. I’ve been looking for a job and realise that being able to use a computer gives one an advantage.”

UYC also wants to introduce a new course in point-of-sale systems. These systems are used in retailing and will enable some of its graduates to apply for jobs in the many neighbouring local shopping centres.

UYC believes all this will ensure that young people have a reason to remain in their rural communities, a “reverse migration” concept that will encourage young people to live in their areas and participate – or create – programmes that ensure self-sustaining communities.

UYC collects information from tertiary institutions and provides career guidance in high schools.

It also runs entrepreneurial training programmes from time to time, in partnership with institutions such as the National Youth Development Agency and the Small Enterprise Development Agency.

Malibe says: “Our place is small and cannot meet the demand. We have 500 young people on a waiting list and can only accommodate 50 in each six-month course. We get some financial support from the Mpumalanga social development department, but it all goes into operational costs.

“We are applying for more funds to have a bigger hall to take in at least 150 people.”