Villages in the periphery of the once glittering city of gold, Francistown, continue to put a strain on the economic abilities of the country’s northern city to provide elusive jobs. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE reports that the informal sector has been picking up the pieces where ends cannot meet in the formal
FRANCISTOWN: The un-rehabilitated mining sites around the 123-year-old city of Francistown, popularly known by its moniker ‘the Ghetto’ are a clear reminder of the gold rush of the late 1800s.
It was the gold rush that attracted thousands of people who came to eke a living in the then town of gold.
With its mining opportunities then, Francistown attracted people from all walks of life, different cultures and beliefs. This left the now “City of Everything Precious” as the melting pot of cultures as it attracted all and sundry with the hope of securing job opportunities offered by the gold rush.
A plus for Francistown was that it had one of the biggest airports in the country at the time, where migrant workers were recruited by the South African labour recruitment agency known as WENELA (Witwatersrand Native Labour Association) to serve in the South African gold mines.
Even with shrinking opportunities now after the ancient gold mines had closed shop as the resources had depleted, Francistown is unfortunate as the rural-urban migration continues. In the minds of the rural dwellers around the city and elsewhere, Francistown remains the place of hope even in sheer ‘hopelessness’.
Rural villages diametrically surround the city. Despite its own struggles, the city with a population of about 100,079 (2011 housing and population census) has been over burdened with the responsibility of shouldering the troubles of the villages in its periphery. To the rural areas, Francistown is akin to a disabled mother who still has to provide to her brood, anyway. Battered by unemployment, the villagers still troop to the city with hope of getting elusive opportunities.
It was during the gold rush in the Bechuanaland era that people migrated from rural areas across the country and settled everywhere leaving the then mining area with squatter settlements mushrooming all over. They preferred to stick around the mining sites even when job opportunities were not forthcoming. Squatter settlements at Madzibalori, Monarch, Bluetown, Aerodrome, Somerset, PWD, Kgaphamadi and others mushroomed during the southern Africa’s gold rush in Francistown that saw the influx of many people into the urban centre. Today, some of the people who eke a living in the streets of Francistown commute everyday from Tonota, Borolong, Matsiloje, Mathangwane, Tshesebe, Moroka, Shashe, Shashe-bridge and other villages in the periphery of the city.
A 2018 International Labour Organisation (ILO) report shows that people living in rural areas are almost twice as likely to be in informal employment as those in urban areas. The report emphasised that agriculture is the sector with the highest level of informal employment – estimated at more than 90%.
Two billion people make their living in the informal economy, the ILO said in a report, stressing that a transition to the formal economy is a condition to realise decent work for all.
Out of the two billion workers in informal employment worldwide, just over 740 million are women.
“Women are more exposed to informal employment in most low- and lower-middle income countries and are more often found in the most vulnerable situations,” the ILO report further says. Every morning hundreds of determined men and women erect make shift market place structures in the available spaces in the town’s pavements and open spaces in order to eke a living. Every little space available is utilised as a sales point by those keen to make money. The streets are profitable locations for hawkers; food stands and other small informal retail businesses. For street vendors and other SMMEs (Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises) to thrive is virtually a dog-eat-dog situation out there. To them, they know that they eat what they have killed on the day.
Majority of those who ply their trade in the city streets have been driven by circumstances to provide for themselves and their families more so that they cannot get better jobs in the formal sector.
For many years, all roads have been leading to Francistown to beat the odds of joblessness bedevilling majority of the people. It has however, not been easy for many people in the informal sector albeit, the sector continues to cushion majority of Batswana against the negative impacts of unemployment. The informal sector continues to prove its worth not just as a source of employment, but also in the production of goods and services. Out there in the streets, men and women produce quality goods ranging from wooden and metallic furniture. They knit jerseys, blankets, mats, bedding, beds and other crucial wares. The contribution of the informal enterprises to the economy of developing countries like Botswana has been a major supporting act.
For the many poor people who cannot be absorbed into the job market
Given Botswana’s seemingly growing levels of unemployment rate, Batswana have found comfort in looking up to the informal sector to provide opportunity for self-employment.
Whilst majority of the services out there are above board like the sales of food, airtime, fruits and vegetables, candies, chewing gums, sales of clothes and a variety of people’s daily needs including food items, some of the people thrive on illegal trade.
Big business in the streets includes the illegal exchange of money: Just any currency can be exchanged in the streets including the United States Dollars, British Pounds and other major currencies.
Illegal trade of tobacco brands acquired mainly from the neighbouring Zimbabwe and marijuana is thriving in the city streets alongside hard drugs like heroine and others.
Young women hair stylists mainly from the neighbouring Zimbabwe and Zambia are always on red alert with a variety of services they provide mainly to women.
Any space they find is suitable to set up for their hairdos. There are beauticians who do facials and manicures, plaiting of the hair and others in the streets for a fee. These are thriving businesses that pay rent and feed many people. Semi-skilled car mechanics with their toolboxes in their hands are ever ready for call-ups and mostly they target their would-be clients around spare parts shops. This is a daily routine as most of these businesses open from Sunday to Sunday.
Basing on the 2019 Statistics Botswana record, about 18.19% of the total labour force in Botswana is unemployed. The informal sector has therefore, been providing answers to the jobless masses who cannot be employed for various reasons. Some do not have the required skills whilst others like the young graduates churned out by the country’s tertiary institutions, have been hitting a blank in the job market in their incessant search for elusive jobs.
Kunyalala Manyepedza graduated from Limkokwing University in 2013 with a degree in broadcasting and journalism. Hailing from Zwenshambe in the North East, the 31-year-old mother has been struggling to find a job that is commensurate with her qualifications.
Realising that it was hard to find a job and yet she had to survive and feed her children, Manyepedza resorted to self-employment where she does facials, food vending and transports shoppers, who buy clothes for reselling in Botswana, to Johannesburg.
“There are no jobs and it’s better to struggle than just fold your arms,” Manyepedza said this week from her street mobile kitchen.
After completing her degree from the Limkokwing campus in Gaborone, Manyepedza didn’t go back to her Zwenshambe village, but rather hung around Francistown with the hope of striking luck in the formal sector. She has even topped up her qualifications with a post-graduate certificate to enhance her chances of elusive employment.
When she realised that luck was eluding her, she opted for self-employment, which has slowing been bringing food to her table. She is raising her children and providing for her needs.
Madida Seokolo who hails from Tumasera never wasted time when his job in the formal sector ended. He quickly ran into the taxi rank where he plies his trade in the transport industry. It has been difficult for Seokolo to imagine himself folding his arms and retracing his steps back to Tumasera without a job. There may be many taxis in Francistown, “but at least on a good day, I am able to make ends meet in the midst of competition in the industry”.
He is just emerging from a no-business government imposed stringent COVID-19 lockdown, which has literally emptied his pockets. But, with opportunities opening up now, he has every reason to smile.
City mayor, Godisang Radisigo concurs that it’s normal that economies of developing countries get a relief from the informal sector as people struggle so much to create jobs for themselves and others.
“The impact of the informal sector is abundantly clear that it continues to add value to a city that is struggling with unemployment,” said Radisigo. The mayor added that since the advent of the COVID-19 lockdown, which barred people from travelling and making a living, the Francistown City Council recently received many claims for food relief from those who ply their trade in the informal sector.
The mayor is impressed that in their struggles, the informal sector traders strive to be self sufficient through self-employment and by trading amongst themselves.
In a city badly battered by unemployment especially after the closure of the Tati Nickel Mine, which employed a good number of people directly and indirectly, Radisigo is confident that the informal sector is the best way to go.