“I never imagined that I would be selling insurance policies on the street”

South Africa has a high and growing rate of youth unemployment, leaving many recent matriculants and graduates scrambling to seize whatever work they can find. But this  can leave them open to exploitation. NATHI VILAKAZI (25), originally from Ladysmith in KwaZulu Natal, told Morwesi Ndlovu how he answered a deceptive job advert and came to sell insurance policies on the streets of Alberton, Gauteng.

Nathi 1I dropped out of matric at the age of 19 because of my family’s financial situation and moved to Johannesburg to live with a relative and to try to find work. Since then, I have been working at retail stores in the Johannesburg CBD. Through this I have acquired some customer service certificates from the training that I received on the job.

I spent six years working in that field, then three months ago, I decided to place a job-seekers advert on OLX. I soon received a call from a recruitment company in Boksburg. They said a retail store in the East Rand was looking for people to hire. I was more than excited because I have certificates and work experience, and I believed that earning more money would later give me the chance to complete my matric.

When I got to the interview I was told that they were looking for “field agents” and that I would be working on the streets of the East Rand, approaching people to sign up for insurance.

There was no discussion of exactly how much I would be paid. They said that there was no basic salary but that I would be earning based on commission and that by hard work and determination I could be promoted from field agent to a management position.

I still felt happy with the offer because it’s better than sitting at home, but I knew that I had to prepare myself to work hard to create my own salary.

It has been a month and two weeks since I started working for this company. We collect very important information; from identity numbers, other insurance details, home addresses, right down to bank details. Some clients get very sceptical when I ask for those details.

But the rules are quite simple – if a customer refuses to give you two minutes of their time, move on to the next customer. I have seen clients being violent towards people that do this kind of work, but I haven’t personally seen or encountered any danger on the job.

The company trains us on dealing with rude customers. Besides that, we don’t get supported in terms of medical cover or trauma counselling if anything tragic were to happen while we’re on the streets.

I never imagined that I would be selling insurance policies on the street, but I love my job now despite the dangers and flaws.

I work in a group of 20 people that travels around together. We motivate each other because we come from difficult circumstances. We even sing and dance in the morning, just to create a fun vibe as we start working.

During quiet hours, I have conversations with my colleagues to find out how they feel about the job. My colleagues are from different areas of South Africa, and they believe young people are lazy. They don’t believe that Johannesburg does not have jobs. If your circumstances do not allow you to focus on your dream career, go out there and take up a job – whether it was falsely advertised or not – that will guarantee income, then build from that.

Within my group, there are three girls that have fallen for false advertising and I guess there have been plenty of others in the company. They advertised the vacancies by saying, “We’re looking for data capturing agents.” That means sitting behind a desk and capturing information onto their systems, not gathering information on the streets. It’s quite deceiving but we had no choice after all.

Selling insurance policies on the streets is not easy, but leaving this job for something else would be pointless because I don’t have a matric certificate.

If I become financially sustainable, I will go back to school and complete my matric. Luckily, in this stage in my life I do not have children or it would be more difficult to do so.

For now, I plan on working at this company for at least two or three years. I hope to own a business of my own some day. I’ve learned my lesson about falling for false advertising, but I am working on making sure that I do not get demotivated.

– As told to Morwesi Ndlovu

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