One speaks for many: ‘I just want to be employed’

Trying to escape deepening poverty and continuing unemployment, graduates in Kutlwanong in the Free State have fallen for a scam promising job opportunities in return for money.

It is a hot day in Kutlwanong, a mining township 20 minutes’ drive from Welkom in the Free State. Peter Kgothule, who has honours degrees in political science and development and management, has gathered members of a group called the Matjhabeng Unemployed Graduates Organisation (Mugo) in his house. 

Kgothule founded Mugo in 2006, after two years of struggling to get a job after he graduated in 2004. The aim was to help graduates like him find employment. But the organisation, instead of finding jobs for its members, has now found itself mainly fighting corruption.

Mugo is not the only organisation of its kind in the area. Kgothule says that there are about six other forums. These organisations are, however, not exempt from corruption, even though they are set up to do good.

22 February 2022: Peter Kgothule founded the Matjhabeng Unemployed Graduates Organisation.

On 15 January, Kgothule opened a fraud case against members of Lejweleputswa Community Development Forum at the Odendaalsrus police station. He says they were selling jobs at Harmony mine for R20 000. Two of the forum’s leaders – Thulani Zondani and Sono Mokoena – were arrested and remain in custody. Kgothule says fraud unfairly sidelines qualified graduates who should not have to pay thousands of rands to get jobs at Harmony or any other company.

One of the people who was defrauded is Lerato Marumo*, 29, who for over a decade has been either in part-time jobs or unemployed. She says she knew Zondani, who defrauded her, because he used to help many people in the community and was well respected. 

“We were always speaking about how little the money I got at the bottle store I worked in was, and he said he could help me. I just needed to give him R3 500 for him to get me some of the documents I need from Pretoria. I saved money then gave it to him – R2 500 for me to be put in the database at TEBA [a recruitment agency for many South African mines],” Marumo explains.

Scramble for scant jobs

Six months after making initial payment to the Lejweleputswa Community Development Forum leader, Marumo settled the balance. 

Her mother died and, in August 2021, she received a R20 000 payout from an insurance company. “I thought my life would change when I got the job and after losing mom. I was alone and wanted a better future for my son. I called [one of the accused] and let him know I have the final payment and he said I would be working by December. I have been waiting till now,” says Marumo.

Marumo knows several people the accused has helped get jobs at the mine. She says that she believes that he got greedy and took money from more people than he could find placements for. “Even now, I don’t know what I will give my son to eat when he comes back from school. It has been hard and I can’t find any other job,” says an emotional Marumo.

Sihle Maake, group communications manager at Harmony, says community forums are only used to communicate with people in mining communities about progress with learnerships, bursaries and the mine’s social labour plan. This includes ensuring development of the communities where the mine operates, and giving first preference to prospective employees who live in these communities.

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“The community feels like we don’t hire people from the community – but we do; we just can’t hire everyone. We also have to consider people from other places that have applied for the jobs. Everybody will be screened and go through the process with human resources fairly,” Maake says. 

Harmony is aware of the job-selling case and has been cooperating with the police in their investigations, Maake says. “We don’t hire through any agencies because of all these scams that pop up. We have an online recruitment portal and we implore people to use that so they don’t find themselves being scammed.”

Kgothule says the mine does very little to improve conditions in their area. “Some of [their] engineers have started farming initiatives and other small businesses but, when we send proposals to get assistance as part of their social labour plan, we get false promises or no word,” he says. 

“Mines make millions here, and the communities they are in are poor. A lot of people are at home. It’s only the R350 grants that help,” continues Kgothule.

22 February 2022: Rethabile Mokhothu holds a degree in Cost Management and Accounting from the Vaal University of Technology. She graduated in 2020 but is still struggling to find employment.

Rethabile Mokhothu, 25, says she gets disheartened when she sees people who graduated as far back as a decade before her without a job. She obtained her degree in cost management and accounting at the Vaal University of Technology in 2020. She says looking for a job has been a struggle. 

“It’s stressful applying and never getting a response, or they ask you to send bank account details and other forms and you never hear back from them … And mom is also waiting, hoping she will get help as well when another person is working – because she is taking care of my other two siblings,” Mokhothu says.

Right after being interviewed for this story, Mokhothu rushed to drop her CV at a nearby high school for an assistant-teacher position. She was told the school would consider her when new posts become available, she says.

When asked what her dream is, she quietly replies: “I just want to be employed.”

*Not her real name.

Naledi Sikhakhane is the 2022 Eugene Saldanha Fellow in social justice journalism.

Correction, 24 May 2022: The Eugene Saldanha Memorial fellowship is supported by the SET. It was incorrectly referred to as a fund.

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