By Amy Sokolow
Thabo Malatji, 29, commutes an hour from Alexandra, a township north of Johannesburg, to Tembisa, another township even farther north, every day for work. His office is inside a cluster of vibrant blue, green and orange converted shipping containers, which pop against their dusty surroundings. The neighborhood is dotted with trees and situated in a community of modest, tightly packed houses with tin roofs. Malatji works at the Tembisa location of the Youth Employment Services, or YES, on their marketing team, and is mostly in charge of their social media presence. He is guaranteed employment for at least the next couple weeks, since he has been working with them for almost a year as part of a career training program, where he also learns computer and business skills.
His real passion, though, is fashion. “I actually made this top that I’m wearing,” he said, pulling at the hem of its blue-and-white-striped fabric to show it off. It’s perfectly tailored to his thin frame. Malatji has been trying to get his fashion business, Solexxx Threads, off the ground through social media, but he can’t always get his work done because he can’t get online at home. “I just need the financial backing because what I use here is Wi-Fi, and when I’m out of the range, I don’t have internet access,” he said.
Just outside where he is working, gathered under trees outside YES, are at least a couple dozen young people scrolling on their phones, connecting to the free Wi-Fi. Malatji estimates that this is the only spot for internet access for at least five kilometers, and he says his cell phone’s data plan is incredibly expensive, at 149 rand, or about $10 per megabyte. On his modest salary, that is a major expense.