Thoughts on unemployment

Unemployment is high everywhere we went in southern Africa. I’m no economist and don’t have a sophisticated understanding about the economies of Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, and South Africa. These comments will be based on my observations only.

In Angola, with projections of 7-12 % growth in the near future, fueled by the oil economy, the problem must be related to lack of education and training. Even before the war for independence and the civil wars, education was not a high priority with the Portuguese colonial government. It took even lower importance during the 40 years of wars…two generations uneducated.

As we traveled around the 4 countries, Angola had by far the fewest schools. Even in Lobito and the other cities, where you might imagine more schools, they were tiny and didn’t appear to be in session. School age children roamed the streets, usually unaccompanied by adults, to the great distress of our friend Jose Chipenda. He and Eva are concerned that even those who are in school aren’t learning anything because teachers have little training. Many people we talked to complained about the lack of books. Brazil has a robust publishing industry and is one source of books, but getting them to Angola is hard. The one bright spot was in Huambo. A couple of large schools were near our hotel. Early in the morning, the sidewalks were full of throngs of students in uniforms.

Education in Namibia is not free, but it is required up to grade 7. Peter-Hain, our cultural tour guide, spoke wistfully of Botswana’s REAL free education. After 7th grade, students have to go to one of the far flung towns for high school. Given the huge spaces and the tiny population, getting to high school is a real challenge, but the population is largely literate. Still the unemployment rate is very high. Mining of uranium and diamonds, cattle and game animal ranching, and tourism are the major industries. I imagine that the history of apartheid and white rule continues to affect the economy.

An article in one of the Windhoek newspapers (there are many in English the official language, German, and Afrikaans), highlighted the problem of Chinese companies winning the contracts for various construction projects. The government’s explanation was that native Namibians aren’t skilled at writing proposals or at quality control.

Mozambique’s poverty level is listed at 172 out of 175 countries, according to UN figures. People get by mainly on subsistence agriculture. Driving through the countryside as far north as Inhambane, I had the sense that the land is very productive. We saw lots of little gardens, papaya and other fruit trees, cashew trees, etc. But evidently countries such as India and China are buying up large tracts of land to plant for their own populations, leaving less for the locals. In town, large numbers of men are idle. In Maputo, along the main streets, everyone is hustling, trying to make a couple of meticais (37 mtc to the dollar). Children beg for change, something that happened only once in Angola.

The current government has stepped away from the socialist ideals of Samora Machel, the first president. Following the requirements of the World Bank, less is going into social programs. I was impressed with the number of nice looking schools and health facilities I saw, but later read that Moz has become the darling of the NGOs and they are the education and health providers. The article said that if the government put into place taxes and tariffs on the corporations that are drawing resources out of the country, it would have enough money for those social necessities.

South Africa is the economic powerhouse of southern Africa, supplying food and manufactured items everywhere we went. So why is there so much unemployment? The answer must go back to the way apartheid and its earlier incarnations completely disrupted society. On our last day in Cape Town we went to the District Six museum. District Six was a multicultural area of inner city Cape Town, crowded and poor, but economically viable and vibrant. From there everyone could walk to work. When the government decided to make it a whites-only area, all the people were moved tens of kilometers out of town to Kayelitsha, Guguletu, Mitchell’s Plain, and other locations with no schools, no work, no infrastructure. To this day, those townships are vast areas of abject poverty. The houses are literally right next to each other. The kids have to play in the small space between the wall of the township and the freeway. We wondered what happened when the soccer ball was kicked into the highway, or when the grazing cattle and pigs decided to wander onto the road.

I wish I had more answers to the unemployment questions. Any ideas, anyone?

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About nancyhj

Missionary kid/ global nomad, writer, retired librarian, returning to my childhood home after 50 years.
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