I recently returned from Cape Town, South Africa, where I had the pleasure of attending the World Congress of the International Labor and Employment Relations Association. The conference was very stimulating, and it’s always good for the ego to have scholars from all over the world wanting to talk to me about my research--past, present, and future. But it was also fascinating to get out of the conference hotel and experience Cape Town.
The shameful apartheid era has left a sad legacy of tremendous inequality and poverty. The District Six Museum memorializes the destruction wrought on that Cape Town neighborhood by the forced removal and resettlement of the ethnically-diverse residents. Visiting this museum was a moving experience, and the tremendous emotional costs were readily apparent. But not only were family and social relations destroyed, so, too, were economic relations as a vibrant community was displaced and workers uprooted from their livelihoods and segregated into townships far from the city center.
Lack of economic opportunity and work continues to be a serious problem—maybe the most important problem of all. Individuals struggle to get by in whatever ways they can; these pictures of workers rounding up passengers for unmetered taxis or selling fish from the back of a truck capturing just two examples:
I was also able to visit two micro-job creation initiatives: Monkeybiz and Streetwires. Monkeybiz gives Township women (and men) beads and other craft supplies that they turn into fantastic beadwork dolls and animals and sell to Monkeybiz on market day, which are then sold by Monkeybiz to people like you and me:
This allows these women and men to earn a basic income without having to leave their family responsibilities. Streetwires is a similar venture, though the
workers artists are directly employed. This young woman created the
first zebra head for Streetwires:
It was very uplifting to see these ventures in action. And even though income is tremendously important for these individuals, we know that work is more than just about income. You can immediately see the creativity and personality embodied in the workers’ creations, and can easily envision the dignity that these opportunities create. More efforts to provide jobs in these communities are sorely needed.