Workers’ plight in SA

2017-05-24 06:00
 Zipho Makhoba

Zipho Makhoba

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AS we near the end of May, a month we have called Worker’s Month, it encourages us to cogitate about workers’ plights in South Africa.

The month has been packed with rallies by various confederations and groups expressing and lobbying for the betterment of working-class conditions in this country, and beyond.

The profusion of these rallies across the country and the vigour they exuded shows that workers­ are still unhappy, and to a large extent, still oppressed by new oppressors masquerading as agents of freedom, custodians of human rights, particularly labour rights.

The commemoration comes while the country has 35.5 million working age people - only 15.1 million are employed with 8.4 million being unemployed.

Here is the saddest part - of the 8.4 unemployed people, 5.1 million are seeking employment while 3.3 million are discouraged work-seekers.

The intention of this article is to trace the progress our country has made in bettering the working conditions of our working class, or lack thereof.

However, I am going to use a rather unconventional way of testing my hypothesis on this issue. I am not going to stick too much on statistics, but I wish to touch on certain liberties one should enjoy by virtue of selling their time and efforts in exchange for a salary.

In achieving this, I should like to draw you to a Kantian doctrine of meaningful work.

A Kantian doctrine states that every work should give a worker certain virtues, without which, that work becomes meaningless.

Emmanuel Kant here mentions autonomy, self-development, independence and enough salaries as intrinsic virtues any work or job should offer.

A meaningful work should offer the worker independence, meaning a worker must never at any point view his or her job as more superior.

The moment one feels compelled to go to work even if the odds are dictating otherwise, even to the detriment of his or her health and will, should know their work is not meaningful.

If your job does not develop you as a person, you remain the same person you were before your job, be it psychologically, morally, spiritually, rationally and economically. That job is not meaningful as it deprives you of self-development.

Karl Marx sums it up nicely: “It is true that labour produces wonderful things for the rich but for the worker it produces privation. It produces palaces but for the worker, hovels. It produces beauty but for the worker, deformity.”

As I have documented in my book using an example of a mine worker who digs raw gold sometimes to the detriment of his own life, that very same worker cannot afford a 21 karat gold watch. How many of us are in this position where we work so hard and honestly only to create a world where we do not belong.

Another example in my book is that a farm worker, who picks grapes in the vineyards in Cape Town, is the same person who cannot afford a 23-year-old wine, the same wine they work hard to produce.

Remember that work remains the most valuable asset in this day and age.

In conclusion, the majority of workers in this country wake up in the morning and go to work, but remain the unhappiest chunk of society.

Their unhappiness, as articulated above, comes primarily from their deprivation of all or some of the virtues supposedly embedded. We wake up every morning and go to work, but still our efforts does not equate to the quality of life we produce for other people (wealthy). The working-class frustration stems from such contradictions, and as a consequence we are quick to resort to violence in expressing our working condition dilemmas.

• Zipho Makhoba is an author, advisor, research consultant and political philosopher at Makhoba Consultants Group (Pty) Ltd.

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