Inspiring stories that shape our thinking
October 25, 2023
By Mantoe Phakathi
Children play next to the road lined up with shops and traders selling anything from shoes to vegetables and braaied meat. This is the scene at kaBelina, one of the densely populated communities of Ezulwini, a town situated some 13 kilometres outside Eswatini’s capital city of Mbabane. I am visiting one of the artisans of the Eswatini Youth Empowerment Programme (EYEP), on invitation to his home, where he has set up his workshop in his backyard. Armed with a set of essential tools he received from UNDP upon graduating with a Certificate in Metalwork following a fully-sponsored training under EYEP, Phinda Nyambose (34) immediately started his business making burglar-proofs. Not a bad idea for someone who got his first pay cheque from installing burglar proofs for a home in one of Mbabane’s suburbs and made E50 000 (USD2600), a week after completing his training.
“Owing to the high unemployment rate, the crime rate has escalated. Therefore, there is a great demand for burglar proofs in my community and the whole country,” Nyambose says as he shows off his products. He also points out the hive of business activities in his community as another opportunity for his products, such as braai stands and mobile kitchens.
My favourite part about my job is visiting recipients of the support UNDP facilitates in Eswatini to find out how people are impacted by the interventions that aim to make their lives a little easier. Like Nyambose, the participants of different projects do not only open their homes but also their hearts and pour out their joy, fears, anxieties and dreams. As they share their stories, I learn much about the complexity of development challenges and draw some lessons.
By the end of September, it had been three months since about 200 EYEP graduates were placed in 46 organizations. In addition, the first cohort of 90 artisans, an almost equal split between males and females, from Ezulwini graduated on September 14. While Nyambose immediately went into business, most of his counterparts interned with various organizations to hone their skills in sewing, upholstery, electrical installation, building and construction, plumbing and metalwork. EYEP partnered with the Construction Industry Council to facilitate the internships.
I spent more than a week moving from Eswatini’s tourism hub, Ezulwini, to the industrial capital, Matsapha, and commercial capital, Manzini, to see how the graduates and artisans were doing. As I listened to their stories, I walked away with three takeaways.
Facilitating women’s entry into male-dominated fields – there was a concerted effort by EYEP partners to ensure an equal representation of males and females among the participants. Efforts were also made to encourage women to sign up for courses traditionally for men, in line with the UNDP Gender Equality Strategy. The response was encouraging. Out of the 15 participants, metalwork attracted eight females and seven for electrical installation and upholstery. “I’m fit for this job. Even at home, when furniture breaks, I fix it,” Qondile Masango (30), an upholstery artisan, proudly tells me as she dismantles a worn-out car seat she was asked to refurbish. She is interning at Ekukhanyeni Upholstery in Manzini, where she has already won the director's heart, who is also a woman. More women are showing interest in traditionally male-dominated fields, like metalwork, says Masango’s trainer at the Manzini Industrial Training Centre (MITC) Aaron Dlamini. However, he warns that for women to stay in these fields, vocational training centres and industries need to adopt new technologies that are user-friendly to women. “As technology advances, we see an increase in women metalwork applicants and they are not dropping out,” says Dlamini, adding: “For example, women prefer a helmet as opposed to the heavy shield when wiring.” He was grateful that UNDP took this into consideration when buying the training material and starter packs for the artisans.
Restoring dignity to our youth through employment – although the youth may be perceived to be living their best life, some have assumed responsibilities and being unemployed is frustrating, and some feel guilty for not being able to give back. For example, Zona Hlophe (32), a multimedia graduate and intern at Ritog Investments, says it hurt her when her father fell sick and she could not help with his medical bill. She subsequently went into depression. “He used his pension to pay for my fees and I was the first child to graduate,” she says. Nomcebo Mazibuko (29), a medical lab and biotechnology graduate and intern at Biolab Eswatini, wondered, “Did I just waste six years of my life”, when she failed to find a job, she was guilty about the amount of money her parents spent on her education. Both say the internships have restored their sense of purpose and given them a reason to keep going. “Although I earn a stipend, at least now I can contribute towards buying electricity at home, and that has restored my confidence,” says Simosethu Ndlangamandla, an HR graduate interning at Parliament. All the graduates say the EYEP induction programme, which had a mental health component, did not only help prepare them for the work environment but supported them to deal with their psychosocial issues.
Youth unemployment is integral to social cohesion – a grandmother to one of the artisans, Thoko Kunene, has lived long enough to notice the change in her community of Elangeni. She has noticed that as the number of unemployed youths grows, so does violence and crime. ”They get into drugs and fight and hurt one another and also engage in criminal activities,” says Kunene. She appreciates EYEP for getting the youth off the streets, giving young people livelihoods, and contributing to social cohesion.
(Mantoe Phakathi is the communication specialist at UNDP Eswatini)