By Bekezela Mguni
Esikhoveni is a rural community in Esigodini, 45 kilometres from Bulawayo along Beitbridge -Gwanda road. Youths in Esikhoveni say going to school is now a waste of time. They argue that the few students who are graduating from high school or colleges are coming back to eke a living through gold panning or sex work. They say this is the work they are effectively doing without education.
Nomcebo Moyo (19) says she dropped out of school when she was in Grade six at a local primary school.
“In 2012, I dropped out of school and joined other young girls who were involved in vending. My parents who are peasant farmers were struggling to raise money for my school fees. In my community I saw that a lot of young people were making a lot of money through vending, gold panning and sex work. I decided to drop out of school so as to ease the challenges that my parents were facing,” says Nomcebo.
Nomcebo says after a few years as a vendor she started to supplement her meagre income by engaging in sex work. Many of her clients are elderly man and gold panners.
Nomcebo says sex work earned her more money. As a result, she stopped vending to focus on sex work.
“I am not proud of being a sex workers,” she says adding that her situation would have remained the same had she gone to school.
“The situation in my community is bad. People are desperate to earn an income but there are no formal job opportunities. Poverty is increasing and the increasing population is putting more pressure on the limited resources such as land and water. Most of the children in the community drop out of school and at around 13 years they start to work for themselves,” says Nomcebo.
Nomcebo adds that the situation is exacerbated by the fact that most parents cannot afford to raise school fees for the education of their children.
Another school dropout, Xolani Sibanda (23) is a young man who was born in Esikhoveni and has spent all his life in that community. He nonchalantly says that for him education is not the key to a better life.
“The country’s education system has failed to address the challenges that young people are facing. Many young people from here are flocking to South Africa, our neighbouring country where they get casual employment as farm labourers or domestic workers. Due to sporadic xenophobic attacks in South Africa, I decided that I will spend my life here,” says Xolani.
Xolani says he started gold panning at an early age and feels that it is the only occupation that can earn him an income. He says gold panning is risky as there are some marauding youths from other areas who often raid gold rich areas and violently chase away the local miners.
“There is a lot of violence here. We work in bigger groups so that we can protect each other but occasionally some people get killed during fights to control gold rich areas. I am always aware that any time I may be involved in violent skirmishes,” says Xolani.
Xolani says he does not regret dropping out of school. He says even if he had continued to go to school, he would still have to come back to do gold panning as there are fewer employment opportunities.
“We have people with tertiary qualifications that we are working with. We have teachers and other professionals who have resorted to gold panning. They spend a lot of time going to school yet we are doing the same job,” says Xolani.
Bridget Ncube (19) feels that unemployment in Esikhoveni disproportionately affects women more than men.
“Women are affected by this situation more because of their care work. I got pregnant when I was still at school and since then I have been taking care of my child alone. Her father denied paternity and is not helping in any way. To make ends meet, I joined other women who sell soft drinks and buns by the main road. I also engage in sex work to complement my meagre earnings,” says Bridget.
Bridget says when the Government imposed the Coronavirus (COVID-19) induced lockdown, women were more affected because vending was shut down yet gold panners continued to operate.
Bridget says women in Esikhoveni suffer more than men and bear the brunt of the ineffective education system.
As COVID-19 continue to ravage the economy, young people in Esikhoveni like Nomcebo and Bridget say they do not see any light at the end of the tunnel and will continue to shun formal education.
This article was written as part of the Creative Centre for Communication and Development (CCCD) project that seeks to strengthen the voices of women and girls, especially under the grim impact of the Coronavirus (COVID 19). CCCD has used the WhatsApp mobile application to train women and girls so that they express their voices on what is happening in their communities.