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Coming soon: I Will Not Grow Old Here

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This story starts with a number: 70%. That's how many young people in South Africa are unemployed. Youth hustle and hope to find success, but how do you make it in a place like Alexandra township in Johannesburg? And how do you get out? In this three-part series, 23-year-old Mary-Ann Nobele brings listeners into her life in Alex and shows us why she's made this promise to herself: I will not grow old here.

Transcript

Disclaimer: Radio Workshop is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that’s not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. The official record for Radio Workshop’s podcast stories is the audio.

 

Maryann: Ok, so today is Friday the 15th. It’s Good Friday. I’m home, at my gran’s house. It’s been three mornings waking up to no electricity. Life’s been very ghetto. A lot’s happened, you! Like, I need to have a proper sit down and, like, a catch up session…

[MUSIC]

Maryann (narration): I’m not gonna lie, I need to get out of here. And by here, I mean Alex. Alexandra Township? In Johannesburg, South Africa… where I live.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the vibe in Alex. The music, the energy. I have my friends and family here. But, mostly, Alex, umm, it stresses me out.

[MUSIC]

Maryann: Ok, so today is Thursday. I’m leaving the house to go to work.

Maryann (narration): I work five jobs. Five. And still, I earn far less than the average white guy my age. But at least I’m not part of the 70%. The 70% of young people in Alex and across South Africa who are unemployed. Somedays, though, I feel like I’m not that far from joining them.

Maryann: Definitely a big car ‘cause I like Audi, I like Mercedes.

Maryann (narration): To remind me of my dreams, I keep a vision board.

Maryann: …and that I want to be rich one day, but not just rich, like dollars rich. I definitely look up to Trevor Noah, because he’s a South African somebody doing his thing…

Maryann (narration): Yeah. I’m pretty ambitious. Here’s another dream: When I’m ready to start a family, it definitely needs to be far from Alex.

I mean just the other day I was visiting our Heritage Center. Reading about our proud history. About Nelson Mandela and Hugh Masekela and Onica Mashego, and so many other influential people with ties to Alex.

And I looked outside the window. It was heartbreaking. Shacks on top of shacks. Corrugated tin roofs. People hustling just to survive. And, it’s been this way for over a hundred years. Have things improved? Yes. But come on. My friend Sthe once said, “Every time you take a breath, Alex gets worse.”

South African poet, Wally Serote, he put it this way:

Wally: The people here dream. They dream like any other person in the world. What we have to examine is why should they be dreaming in shacks?

[MUSIC]

Maryann (narration): My name is Maryann Nobele. I’m a reporter. And for the last six months, I’ve been documenting life as a 23-year-old trying to find her way out of Alex.

I’ve produced a 3-part podcast for the Radio Workshop. It’s called “I Will Not Grow Old Here.”

And believe me when I say, I will not grow old here.