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TAC activist Mandla Majola says jobs and education are key to South Africa's future. Photo by Dan Connell
By Laura Chandler
Cape Town--Driving through the crowded streets, we see seas of people in tents at the side of the road. Stands with fruits, vegetables, and plasticware fill the sidewalks, owned by eagle-eyed businessmen and women hoping to sell their goods to tourists.
They hustle to lay their items out before the morning traffic disappears, smiling at passersby and yelling greetings to their neighbors.
It is a cloudy morning in Khayelitsha, one of Cape Town's oldest black townships, created in 1983 under the Group Areas Act, which assigned people to urban spaces segregated by race.
Garbage lies around the stands, piled high against the fences of barbed wire and corrugated metal.
Nearing our destination, the number of informal businesses increases. So does the number of people standing aimlessly in the road, staring out at the day. Many are under 18.
Unemployment in Khayelitsha is between 35 and 40 percent, and young people have been hit the hardest, say our hosts at the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a social movement that focuses on social and economic issues. In this community of 700,000 people, there are up to 280,000 without employment and lacking faith in government assistance, say TAC activists.
Many have taken their fate into their own hands and started their own small businesses, selling whatever they kind find to support themselves and their families. Others have lost hope and descended into drinking, drugs, and violence.
Serving a community this size is no easy task; some might say an impossible one. Not according to Mandle Majola, the TAC district coordinator in Khayelitsha's Site C.
TAC was formed in 1998 to cope with the spread of HIV and force the government to provide access to prevention and treatment services. Today, after winning a victory in the Constitutional Court that compelled the government to provide anti-retroviral drugs to those who need them, the organization focuses largely on the socioeconomic rights.
"It is sad, it is depressing, but we are not hopeless," says Majola with resolve in his voice. A tall, serious man, he captures the attention of the room immediately.
Majola sees the unemployment epidemic in South Africa to be a root cause of many other issues that arise in communities like Khayelitsha, particularly domestic violence.
On a daily basis the township faces unemployment, sanitation, police corruption, gender based violence, housing, water access, and more.
The large number of unemployed youth leads to fears about power dynamics in the households. Majola and his TAC colleagues describe men feeling useless and weak, as they are unable to be the primary breadwinners. In a time where women are providing more household income than ever, the men in the community fear losing their place.
Majola does not see the epidemic ending until the mindset of the people has changed.
"The culture needs to be adjusted to the conditions of the modern day," Majola says quietly, staring out the window.
As a father of a 7-year-old girl, Majola says he worries about the future of South Africa and the safety of everyone within that state. He says he works "to create a country that is warm, safe, and secured for women and young girls."
Advocating for jobs, educating the community, and reaching the youth is how TAC proceeds to help that cause, according to Majola.
It is a vision of a future that needs to be taken up by a larger audience to truly change South Africa, but for now, he says that TAC will continue to fight for this in their small corner of the country.