In January I wrote that Mtuseni was applying for a radio internship with the South African Broadcasting Corporation. The SABC owns radio and TV outlets throughout South Africa, with many in Johannesburg. It’s a high profile gig, looks good on a resume, and would give Mtuseni the 100 intern hours he needs to graduate in June.
Talking to him the other day, we agreed he likely didn’t make the cut. Nor did any of his friends from school. Of course, we can only assume this because SABC doesn’t notify applicants who aren’t accepted. But given that interns were expected to sign a contract covering March 1 to November 1 — and it’s already March — it’s safe to say that ship has already sailed. But who really knows? The SABC site offered few details about the program or the application process. In this day and age, how hard is it to send a mass e-mail or text telling people their application wasn’t accepted and to try again next year? Especially when kids are desperate for experience in a country with 50 percent youth unemployment? But that would be too logical, too considerate, too professional.
Mtuseni is disappointed and starting to feel “desperate.” The graduation deadline is only months away, and he hasn’t made much headway on the intern front. He’s applying for the Y-Academy at YFM — the big youth market station in Joburg. It’s a six-month program and another high profile gig. The application process is complex — with online registration, tough questions, and sample voiceover recordings. Mtuseni got 90 percent of it done last fall, then choked and bailed at the last minute. (And got an earful from half a world away, believe me.) All he needs to do is record his scripts at the school studio and submit a new application.
So I looked at the application section on the YFM site … and in big letters it says “Registration ends soon!” What does that mean?! Tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Why on earth can the station not provide a specific date? “Registration ends March 15 … or April 1 … or April 30” is a lot more helpful than “soon.” And the site doesn’t state when the Academy begins, so you can’t even guess at an application deadline. It is absolutely, positively maddening.
But this is par for the course in South Africa. I’ve lived it for the last five years. Trying to get anything done for Mtuseni always takes me multiple attempts. Tracking a package I sent him last month, I got three completely different answers from three different reps at the SA post office. It took me six weeks to get a repair quote for his broken laptop (and when he brought it on his trip to the US last summer, it was clear they had botched the repair.)
Years ago, Mtuseni couldn’t fathom why I would get so frustrated trying to execute a simple task down there. But he was in school and isolated from having to deal with a broad swath of people and services in the country. But now he’s got more at stake — he wants to graduate on time and get a job — and he understands what I’ve been griping about. The terms he used the other day to describe the poor service and lack of communication in SA ranged from “pathetic” to “bullshit.” (He’s taking after his long-distance dad with that language! Maybe not a good thing…)
Mtuseni also can see the larger ramifications of these issues. He knows that if people in South Africa were more focused on details and responsiveness and communication — things would operate more efficiently and effectively overall, and the country might be in a better position economically. He knows it won’t magically eradicate the country’s poverty, but he understands that a lot of productive time is wasted by people going in endless circles of South African inefficiency and dysfunction.
But Mtuseni also has the fatalistic resignation of,”What are you gonna do?” So he seeks out and applies for internships without accurate information or clear communication, flying blind as he tries to rise above his poor circumstances and build a better life.
And until he gets that internship — and a job — I’ll keep eating Rolaids like Mentos.
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