“There is no value to money. Money is a piece of paper with ink that is destroying our lives. They have been so clever.”

Quote and photo from the field. By ESR Evelien Storme.

All ESR's are on fieldwork in various parts of Africa in 2019. As part of the dissemination they will be sending a photo and a quote from the field while they are away.   


This photo and quote from the field comes from ESR Evelien Storme who is doing her fieldwork in South Africa on South African youth. Read more about her research here


Mohammed* is a Rasta from Hangberg in Cape Town and has not worked for nearly half a year. The last job he had was as a janitor in the multipurpose hall via a publics work programme for three months over the summer. Now winter is arriving. He is not sure where the money will come from to put bread on the table and to pay his neighbour for pre-paid electricity – a connection they have rewired to light up the self-built corrugated iron structure he calls home. His home illegally sits on the flanks of a mountain in an area that is zoned as fire break between the community and a nature conservation area.
Now and then he will go to the harbour to find an empty spot on a boat going out at the dark of night to poach abalone or crayfish. To protect marine life catching crayfish without permit and all abalone fishing have been made illegal, and poachers are regularly arrested by police awaiting them on the harbour walls.
He has been looking for a job and dropped off hard copies of CVs printed in the local library in nearby shops. He now “waits patiently” until someone offers him a job. Ever since, Mohammed has been waiting for a response and I’m fearful it may not come.
So it is not that Mohammed doesn’t want money, or doesn’t need money. In fact, it is what he lacks most he has said before.

The quote above in turn reflects his objection against what he sees as the commodification of the land and the sea, which I have encountered in many a conversation with young people in Hangberg. They find it hard to understand why the government is denying them access to the sea and the land which they feel belong to them as much as it did to their ancestors’, and on which many of them rely for survival in an environment where there is not much else to hold onto. They feel they are taking responsibility for their own lives. Yet many of the strategies they have developed are deemed illegal in a society where access heavily depends on socio-economic class and the money you have. Because of this illegality, his livelihood is highly insecure and under constant attack.

Fellow residents whom are home owners with title deeds or fisherman with permits have vested interests in what they describe as keeping “order” and combatting this “lawlessness” of illegal work and housing. They fear the government might stop investing in the community if they cannot organise themselves. The illegal structures in the mountain put pressure on public infrastructure such as waste collection and electricity provision. They fear the violent encounters during police raids that regularly take place in the government’s attempt to stop poachers and land-grabbers alike. They are glad to be sending their kids to school and invest much time and money in their education. And while they disapprove some of Mohammed’s choices, they understand that people like him who dropped out of school at the age of 12, have to make do with few options. 

The community of Hangberg only spans over a square kilometre at most. Yet, over the past few months I have encountered very different realities with people having access to different resources. People look for and construct order and logic that enable them to secure and justify their livelihoods. In the next few months I’ll be seeking to understand how people’s choices and actions for work and employment are shaped by the realities and the logics they find themselves in. And, in turn, what this may mean for policies seeking to expand youth employability.