ZOLA Balfour sits at home in Port Elizabeth, reminiscing about assembling up to 120 cars a day at a busy General Motors of South Africa plant.

ZOLA Balfour sits at home in Port Elizabeth, reminiscing about assembling up to 120 cars a day at a busy General Motors of South Africa plant.

But the good times of employment and paychecks came to an abrupt end early this year, when he was off-loaded along with half of the company's 3500 staff, as the global financial crisis hit the motor industry hard.

Dubbed the "Detroit of South Africa", the coastal region of Nelson Mandela Bay suffered the effect of the global financial meltdown, causing a wave of job losses in the region home to most of the country's auto plants.

Balfour speaks fondly about the sweat and hard work he put in on the assembly line. But the thrill soon disappears when he ponders his future without an income.

"I do not know what the future holds. I have used up all the money I received as part of my severance package," said Balfour.

In May, the 34-year-old voluntarily left his job, after nine years of service, when the reduced demand for cars forced GMSA to give its workforce an option of retrenchment or voluntary pension payouts.

Balfour received a package of R40000.

"It was better to go than hang on and wait for the worst. Production was cut dramatically. Sometimes we worked one or two days in a week and you only got paid for the days you worked," he said.

With a weekly wage of R700, Balfour supported his mother and siblings, now he says his family is anticipating a bleak Christmas without his financial support.

"If you walk around the township here, you could feel and see the desperation in many people's faces. People who have no chance of getting back into the job market," he said.

In the streets of the sprawling Motherwell township, on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, young adults roam aimlessly or hang around shops.

"When the car industry was vibrant, people used to go out and look for jobs. They would wait outside the gates of companies hoping to be called in," said Balfour.

Balfour is refusing to be another addition to the country's staggering unemployment figures. He says he keeps busy by sending job applications to various companies who might be attracted by his experience.

"Every day I send out applications. I am hopeful that things will turn better next year, when this recession thing gets better," he said.

When companies like GMSA, Volkswagen South Africa and Ford scaled down production, a host of component manufacturers dependent on the car industry for business also laid off workers. Others closed down.

Destiny Whitebooi, a machine operator at Dorbyl Automotive, which makes CV joints, was retrenched with 3000 others when orders dried up.

"Orders from car companies became lesser and lesser, but I never thought they could let us go like that," said Whitebooi.

Unlike Balfour, Whitebooi is less optimistic about the future.

"There is no hope out there. In five years time I will be turning 40 years old and compete with my children, who would be entering the job scene," said the single mother of three children.

She said her retrenchment together with 300 other people marked the end of "life as a normal human being".

"Now I am getting the reality check as Christmas approaches. My children need clothes. They are used to getting nice things around this time. But that won't happen this year," she said.

Like her counterpart from GMSA, Whitebooi's pension payout of R85000 is finished - leaving her to navigate the red tape of state unemployment benefits.

"My chances of finding a job are one in a million. I don't know what am I going to do with my young children," she said. - Sapa-AFP