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"This is probably the last Christmas I will spend in poverty," a woman's voice was heard saying in the midst of a mass of people shuffling out of a community hall in Finetown, south of Johannesburg.
Another woman's voice responded saying: "I am glad we are being recognised for empowerment opportunities at last… Jobs are scarce."

The two women had just attended a Jozi@Work briefing and registration session at the Finetown Multipurpose Hall on Wednesday this week.

They had just been inspired by a motivational presentation by Dumisani Hlatshwayo of The Business Place, who had earlier told the packed hall about work and business opportunities offered by Jozi@Work – a City of Johannesburg initiative.

Johannesburg has committed that contracts valued at just over R1 billion will be contracted to community based companies and cooperatives under the Jozi@Work programme, which is designed to take socio-economic transformation to communities by empowering them to be job creators and not merely job seekers.

"This is a chance for you to challenge the reality of poverty, inequalities and unemployment," Hlatshwayo told the local residents as they listened attentively to his presentation. By this time the hall had fallen so silent that one could hear a penny drop.

"The entry barriers for SMMEs have been lowered for your convenience and for you to take action now because no one will knock on your door and give you a job or business," Hlatshwayo said.

He further encouraged the residents to register their community based companies and cooperatives as legal entities through the Jozi@Work programme at no cost, which is contrary to when they go direct to the Department of Trade and Industry. Hlatshwayo said the programme was being initiated at the back of a survey conducted by the City of Johannesburg in 2011, which found that more than 800 000 job-seekers in the City could not find work.

This was one of five Jozi@Work briefing sessions held in the City throughout the week as the first phase of the registration process draws to a close.

On Monday and Tuesday, Hillbrow residents packed the Hillbrow Recreation Centre along King George Street to hear how they can participate in the Jozi@Work programme and also register their organisations as legal entities.

Two more sessions are due to be held this week - one in Finetown and another at the Jabulani Civic Centre in Soweto. Four more will be held in various regions next week as the registration drive moves into high gear.

Last week, the Johannesburg Executive Mayor, Cllr Parks Tau visited a registration drive site at Sankopano Community Centre in Alexandra to listen to the local residents’ feedback to Jozi@Work. He told the community members who had both come to register their companies and cooperatives, and those who were still looking for more information on the programme that more than 2 000 cooperatives and small businesses had already been registered for the programme since the start of the process.

The City is collaborating with The Business Place, a private sector SMME development agency, to provide a free registration service to would-be Jozi@Work service providers.

The programme gives ordinary Johannesburg residents the opportunity to provide services such as grass-cutting, maintenance and repairs, greening and landscaping, refuse removal and street cleaning, to mention a few.

The programme is aimed at creating 12 329 job opportunities in the 2014-2015 financial year and 38 949 in the 2016-2017 financial year. For every work package assigned through Jozi@Work, cooperatives and small companies doing the work with the City will be backed by a Capability Support Agency (CSA), which will handle all invoicing and payments, make sure that the work is done properly and enable them to rent equipment and buy raw materials.

The CSA will also over a year or two provide training, give advice, offer support and enable access to low-cost loans to ensure the business grow beyond the programme and is able do business with customers other than the City.​