Returning to past poverty biggest tragedy of job losses

09 October 2020 - 09:35
By Kwanele Ndlovu AND Kwanele Ndlovu
Mdeni, a tiny village of the Ngxoki administrative area near Ngcobo in the Eastern Cape
Image: LULAMILE FENI Mdeni, a tiny village of the Ngxoki administrative area near Ngcobo in the Eastern Cape

One of the most devastating effects of the current corona pandemic has to be the job losses. I think everyone I know knows someone who was laid off. If not that, then it is the struggle with recovering from the financial ruin of having had salaries cut.

For those like me, who are basically migrant workers in Gauteng, one of the consequences of Covid-19 has meant moving back home. Me and most of my peers came to the City of Gold to search for a better life and moving back home means returning to a poverty one had tried to escape, and in some instances, to forget.

A friend of mine was compelled to relocate back to her rural home.  This meant uprooting her five-year-old son and asking friends to keep pieces of her furniture they could fit in their homes. As if her troubles were not bad enough, she went off with the car the bank is looking to repossess due to non-payment.

Ideally, going back home should be a comforting option to have when you have lost the life you were trying to build out in the city. Well, in her case, the little bundle of joy has complicated things a bit. OK, maybe a lot.

Picture a preschool bright spark who calls himself Lee because that is what all the teachers who cannot pronounce his actual name call him. So they just shortened it for convenience. But that is OK because kiddo himself has never really learnt to say his name correctly anyway.

But he has mastered all English and Afrikaans names and honestly finds those so much easier to pronounce. He meets uncle Qondisani and aunty Zinhle and woah, ‘Khondi’ and ‘Zee’ have spoken more of the queen's language in the past two months than they did throughout their failed high school career.

My friend says she is exhausted from having to interpret almost every conversation her people try to have with her son. He insists on wearing a mask, and nobody can decipher what he is trying to say in that thick twang under three layers of cloth. She had never prepared her son for an environment that required full-time communication in Zulu. And that was not even the worst part of her return home.

The little boy refuses to use the pit toilet, and says “yuk, this is so dirty!” at everything he encounters, including the drinking water from the tank. Then there are tantrums when he is told there is no Cartoon Network. Frankly, there is not even cereal, and burger Fridays because my friend cannot buy things only for him while there are a handful other nieces and nephews in the same house.

And she says her heart breaks each time he asks, “Mommy, when are we going back home?” Her biggest anxiety is that she might not find work soon, and this will mean she has to put her kid in the local schools. And this, in her eyes, would be her biggest failure yet!

I guess for some, the biggest tragedy with losing employment will be that their children will be subjected to the very life they worked to escape, and maybe forget!