|Youth unemployment stands at around 40 per cent in South Africa
Seven people out of 15000 reportedly died after they all took part in a fitness test held in a het of 91.5F (33C); this was to win one of just 90 jobs with South African traffic police.
A crowd of unemployed jobseekers, who most were between the age of 18-20 years old, took part in a test, held in a football stadium, after they each received text messages informing them they had been “shortlisted” for the coveted spots in the KwaZulu Natal regional traffic police department.
As part of the test, they were told they needed to complete 4km (2.4 mile) run within half an hour to meet the force’s minimum fitness level requirement.
But by the time they started running late last Thursday afternoon, temperatures inside Pietermaritzburg’s Harry Gwala stadium had climbed to 91.5F.
With many neither eating or drinking all day, and limited access to drinking water, six people died after collapsing from heat exhaustion and dehydration during the run; while a seventh man reportedly killed himself when he learned he had not finished the race in time.
According to Dan Newling, a reporter from Cape Town; Lenny Nxumalo, a 28-year-old father of two’s body was only discovered over four hours after he died when the vast crowd finally cleared out of the stadium.
He had collapsed having completed the race with ten minutes to spare.
His best friend Brian Ngcobo told the local The Witness newspaper: “My friend was so determined to become a traffic officer that he ran his life out because he was such a dedicated person.”
Another applicant, Lindelani Kubheka told the paper that he collapsed at the “horribly disorganised” event after he ran on an empty stomach and without water.
“We were starving and needed water, but the venue is isolated from fast food outlets, so it was difficult for many of us to survive the scorching heat without water and food”, he said after waking up in hospital on Friday.
The tragedy is just the latest example of the problems that can occur when South Africa’s desperate young workforce – who face an effective unemployment rate of around 40 per cent – struggle to find a job.
Government positions, such as those with the police force or army, are highly sought after as they are relatively well paid, have low entry criteria and the application process positively discriminates in favour of blacks.
Previous “mass job interviews” for jobs such as these have seen tens of thousands of desperately poor and ill-educated young people descend on a location in the hope of securing one of perhaps just a dozen positions.
In this latest example, more than 150,000 people applied for the 90 jobs within the department. Of these, 34,000 were sent text messages on Christmas Day telling them to report to the stadium in two groups on Thursday and Friday. Some 230 people were hospitalised over both days, although no one died on Friday.
Yesterday Willies Mchunu, the minister responsible for KwaZulu Natal’s Transport and Community safety, confirmed that “more than 34,000 applicants qualified for the 90 trainee posts which were advertised”, but that “scores of them could not cope with the hot weather condition and collapsed.”
Mr Mchunu, of the African National Congress, added that he was “deeply shocked” by the tragedy.
“As government we regret any injuries or loss of lives as a result of the fitness test we conducted over the past two days”, he said.
South Africa’s Communist Party, which is in political alliance with the ANC, demanded a full enquiry into the tragedy.
The opposition Inkatha Freedom Party called on Mr Mchunu to step down.