What happens when people suddenly find themselves unemployed?
Well, forget the fact that none of us are the same and react differently to crisis situations in our lives. As with any other major traumatic event, unemployment also results in people finding themselves going through different stages. I know, because I have been there before and currently find myself in exactly the same position. Fact is, millions of people find themselves in this position every day and mostly everybody reacts more or less the same initially – “This is not supposed to happen to me. But the rest of the world carries on as if nothing can stop them, as if nothing ever changes….,” a shocking revelation that keeps you awake…., pondering…, asking a lot of questions and feeling fear, confusion, shame, guilt and anger, all at the same time. Why….? Is it because you suddenly face life from the bottom up? Is it because you suddenly feel vulnerable and cheated? Maybe it is because you suddenly feel alone and in your mind you are already in the ghetto….., and feel dirty, an outcast. There are just not enough derogatory words to describe every emotion you go through, but the saddest part of this whole process is the part where you lose your identity and your dignity is dragged along with it.
To find a new job, even the simplest ones, requires a certain amount of skill and some degree of creative marketing (bullshitting) these days. You have to sell yourself and the more you fail at it the more you hone your creative marketing and before you know it, you don’t know who you are anymore and begin to doubt yourself. That is when it becomes harder and harder to look people in the eye and as your health and appearance deteriorates, you find yourself rejecting every opportunity that comes along…., you start procrastinating, doubting yourself and looking for ways to counter that…… Suddenly the world becomes a labyrinth of cruelty and the dark coldness that surrounds you swallows every dream you ever had and the harshness of it all becomes you….. People avoid you and those close to you seem to have that vacant look in their eyes when they look at you and the disappointment and resentment in your parents’ faces haunts you at night and you object elaborately so your own words echo in your head for days on end – feeling more guilt, more shame and more insignificant. Every effort you make to stay part of this world becomes obscured by your new personality and you distrust everybody you come in contact with while you desperately try to convince them that you should be counted too…, and this is only the beginning.
Stage One – The initial shock…..
In this stage your reaction depends totally on what kind of person you are, but most people very soon find themselves avoiding others and crying a lot, praying and crying some more and then you calm down. This cycle unfortunately carries on for a few days, especially when friends and family start asking a lot of questions you don’t have the answers to like before, and especially when you are reminded of your callous and brash treatment of the beggar at the traffic lights every so often. Suddenly your mind races as you get anxious towards the end of each day that you have not been able to find new employment and before you know it you start feeling sorry for yourself. The same questions over and over and over……, and then you get irritated, angry and start ranting on and on and on…., and suddenly you find you have no friends anymore and resentment settles in and finally rejection……, and you imagine that even strangers avoid you….
It is at this stage, that people should get help, because it is here at this stage that people just “loose it” and do something completely out of character or even commit suicide without thinking too much about it. According to experts in the field, this happens everywhere in the world to people from every single group, but in South Africa it is different, because White people have to carry the extra burden of guilt and shame for being White…., the only real negative effect Apartheid ever had…. In South Africa it is not uncommon for unemployed White males to feel that they are paying for the sins of their forefathers now…., the rest of the world made sure of that, publicly accusing us of racism and human rights violations, convincing us that we deserve the fate that befalls us. It is at this point that you doubt your family’s future the most and when fear of the unknown gnaws at you whenever it is quiet around you and your mind gets busy, but you don’t give up yet, you still rely on humanity.
Then the one empty promise after the other becomes part of your routine and more and more people remind you of the “others” that are in the same position as you are. You realise that you have to look at life differently, but you are not sure how, as life goes on and nothing seem to have changed, yet everything becomes more and more strange to you. Your thoughts and wishes that if only you can get this or that job is gradually fading into despair and you start to panic outwardly. This is when you start using more and more foul language….., even in prayer and God becomes a figment of your imagination. You humble yourself and approach your church for help and you cry a lot more as a different type of guilt and shame engulfs you. Suddenly you get all kinds of small jobs and things start to look a bit better. Your dignity is restored to some extent and you calm down and cry no more. Then you have to face your first major crisis – your borrowed vehicle breaks down and the jobs are few and far between and you cannot afford the repairs. Before you know it, you are stranded and no more jobs are available and you surrender to that sadness that overwhelms you…., but you cannot cry and God fades away in the distance and now you are even angrier than before.
Stage two – Feeling insignificant…..
At this point you are destitute. You feel abandoned and let down. This is the stage where people are the most vulnerable and susceptible to all kinds of “quick fixes.” This is the stage that most people do not understand. It is the stage where the unemployed person is engulfed in that black hole that consumes personalities and destroys all faith. This stage creates drug addicts and alcoholics and places the victim out of reach of neighbours and friends. This stage requires specialist intervention and professional treatment. Those who do not succumb to the temptations of substance abuse, enter into a phase of bitterness and hatred and reach a point of giving up – not wanting to try anymore. Suddenly the church becomes your enemy, or at least a place that owes you more than you get. You refer with bitterness to all your failed attempts to find employment and you blame everybody for the situation you find yourself in. Yet you still pray every day that your family stay healthy and safe.
This stage can last for a few months or even a few years. It is during this stage that you are desperate enough to try anything and often are unable to see the potholes. Every mistake you make is larger than life itself and every big decision requires every ounce of energy you have, while family and friends all seem to know better than you what you need to do…, and you stubbornly push ahead, yet you are not sure that you know what is best. Then a family member gets hurt and you get angry and you realise with dismay that your wife and kids are suffering as much as you do…., and you tether on the edge of giving up. At this point you take stock of your situation and the truth of the matter finds you submerged in self pity and you cry for days behind closed doors. You call the umpteenth family meeting and the emptiness in your family’s eyes rushes like a freight train through you. Your emotional explanation and desperate pleading does not seem to hit home and you lose control….., and you feel isolated and lost. Your first thought of ending it all starts to take shape, but you dismiss the thought with disgust.
You start looking for help again – a different kind of help…., you realise that you need to restore your dignity and man up, to be a father and husband again. You are therefore invited to prayer meetings and supports groups, but the same cycle of empty promises soon have you realise that no-one really wants to help and you withdraw again. Now you have a sensible talk with your spouse and the two of you come to some sort of agreement. From now on, you will run the household – you wash dishes, clean the house and do the washing and somehow it soothes your mind….., until you start thinking again after another conversation with someone making empty promises and the cycle starts all over again. When you realise that you will no longer be able to afford accommodation for your whole family and that living in a squatter camp is closer to reality than you thought, even you who refused to give up hope, surrenders to total disparity.
Stage Three – Life in the ghettos…..
By this time you find yourself either living on the street or somewhere in a shack or outbuilding in someone’s back yard or a squatter camp. Government has no socio-economic support system to assist you since you are White and the downward spiral becomes harder and harder to resist. Now you become the pity of every person out there while unscrupulous community leaders exploit you. Your life has become one huge rubbish dump and all of your friends are lost to you…., the only friends you have now are all in the same situation as you are and you cannot rely on them. Here you gradually slip into total submission, to a life of begging and further and further away from ever being gainfully employed again. You become a totally different person, one who society despises and subsequently avoid. You give up, when you realise that now you are merely someone’s problem and not an asset to society anymore. Since welfare organisations are not receiving any government incentives or support to help you and also have to comply with BBBEE and AA legislation, hunger and cold become part of your life.
Doing any kind of job at this stage seems the same as begging to you, since you realise how the rest of the world sees you. Most days you just don’t have the energy to set foot outside your immediate environment to face an extremely cruel world. Well-doers come and go, bringing food and clothing that others don’t want and occasionally there are some more empty promises. The hardest part is when those well-doers talk to you as if you are a mental patient at some institute. You know they mean well, but it stings. Then there is the salt of the earth kind that really do all they can to make you feel dignified again and you start to build all your trust on that person, especially since you found out that he/she cannot really afford to help any of you. Strangely, you find it easier now to believe again and you are not so angry at God anymore, but then again, you see almost everybody handing out food and blankets as an angel and you are grateful that you are still alive.
People finding themselves in this stage, find it difficult to commit to any kind of employment, They are surrounded by people in the same dire situation who will agree with any decision a person makes in this regard. Life just became far too difficult for them to search for a better solution. What they need is proper leadership and continuous social support and discipline – a long term support system that can help them back on their feet again. The only proven system that ever proved itself around the world is the Israeli-Kibbutz system. All other efforts have failed dismally. Exactly how the Kibbutz-system can be applied to curb large scale poverty is evident in the fact that Israel has the lowest unemployment rate in the world among its own people whereas South Africa’s employment rate is among the highest in the world….., again among its own people. I believe it was Genl. Smuts who first proposed this system in SA, but our government then preferred low cost government housing and an ample public service staff compliment…., that along with the same initiative principally in the mining sector. An initiative that systematically phased out during the eighties until it disappeared completely after the 1994 elections.
In retrospect one can safely say that a Kibbutz-system would have benefitted the Afrikaner people far more than any other. Setting aside any bias, one could rightfully applaud Smuts for his “vision.” However, had Apartheid been fully supported and maintained as intended by Dr Verwoerd, all ethnic groups in SA would have been far better off currently – his assassination remains to be South Africa’s greatest loss ever and that nobody who knows his history can deny.
Willem C Rossouw