South Africa: Part One: JRS Makhado, Creating Urban and Rural Livelihoods
20 July 2015

(From Right to Left) One of Rosemary and Amina's subleases styles a customer's hair. (Gushwell F. Brooks/Jesuit Refugee Service).
“JRS is fulfilling people’s dreams! Thanks to JRS, I, at the age of 35, could go back to school.”

Makhado, 20 July 2015 - The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) office in Makhado, Limpopo Province, 113 kilometres away from the Beitbridge border post between Zimbabwe and South Africa, is in the very interesting position of being a sprawling large town quickly turning into a small city, whilst surrounded by a rural setting, with vast distances between communities. Here the livelihoods’ projects that JRS support in ensuring that refugees can support themselves, have taken two forms. One urban, the other, rural. 

A series of three articles deals with the work JRS is undertaking in Makhado. This article, the first in the series, deals with the urban livelihoods’ projects, whereas the follow-on to it deals with the rural projects and the last in the series deals with the challenging but rewarding work being done with unaccompanied, refugee minors.  

The first of these urban livelihoods’ projects has given refugee women access to a lucrative market and area of operation, the beauty industry. Whether you are on the busy streets of Johannesburg or in the rural tranquillity of the Northern Cape, one thing remains true, beauty and grooming are a priority for South Africans. Like all sustainable and meaningful livelihoods’ projects that JRS supports across South Africa, the one in Makhado is not just based on refugees starting small businesses with the expectation that they should somehow survive. 

As always, the livelihood project kicks off with education, education on two fronts: strengthening the skills for the service being provided through the business and actual business training. This means that those going through the programme are excellent and skilled at the service they provide and that they are effective at running their businesses. 

Amina and Rosemary, both of them originally from Zimbabwe, understand the value of their new found skills. Amina has three children and has been in South Africa for three years and she runs the modest, but successful hair salon on the first floor of a building in the Makhado Central Business District (CBD) along with her business partner, Rosemary, who has been in South Africa for five years and who has two of her own children to support. 

The training as well as the auxiliary start-up assistance they received from JRS has left them with a business where customers can have their hair styled with weaves, braids and even dreadlocks. Their business has also given five other women an entrepreneurial opportunity. Whereas the premises from which they run their hair salon is leased to Amina and Rosemary, they have entered into subleasing agreements with five other women through what is known as a “rent-a-chair” system. Other hairdressers, who do not have a premises of their own to operate from, are given an extended service, whereby they can rent a portion of the premises, as the need arises.
Amina, smiling broadly, has a new, positive, forward-looking outlook on life. She, has also gone through training that has taught her the art of manicures. She in turn is teaching Rosemary this valuable skill. “I want to say thank you to JRS for all that you have done. I can now support my children. Things are not as difficult as they used to be.” she says. 

In another part of town, at Avuxeni Computer Centre, we meet the 35 year old Tendai Dube. Her father passed away and her 15 year old daughter is still in Zimbabwe. The responsibility of supporting her daughter, her siblings and many other members of her extended family fall squarely on Tendai’s shoulders. She has been in South Africa since 2008 and has been subsisting on “piece jobs”, at the moment doing laundry and cleaning on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

She has a simple desire, to find a better job, where she does not only work for three days a week for a small wage. 
“I have been applying for work at supermarkets.” she says. However, her applications are unsuccessful, all because she does not have computer skills. Now after a four month computer course through Avixeni Computer Centre, with the support of JRS, she says: “JRS is fulfilling people’s dreams! Thanks to JRS, I, at the age of 35, could go back to school.” 

Whether it is taking advantage of a lucrative market, or empowering someone with skills that we all too oft take for granted, JRS is enabling refugees, who are expected to survive within the greater South African economy, to do exactly that. They, along with their families, are able to survive and make a success despite the odds being firmly stacked against them. 

Press Contact Information
Gushwell F. Brooks
+27 11 618 3404