Too lazy to work?

2010-07-23 00:00

THE Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says, in its first report on South Africa, that the high level of unemployment is a major stumbling block hampering economic prosperity and has urged government and business leaders to make some meaningful contributions to job creation.

At much the same time, Minister of Public Works Geoff Doidge tells Business Unity South Africa that the construction and property sectors need to become more productive, more competitive and more inclusive of the previously disadvantaged groups of people.

Meanwhile, the national government has set aside about R800 billion that it will spend over the next 10 years on maintaining, improving and creating new infrastructure in the country. The spending plan includes major mass-housing projects to get the poor and indigent people out of squatter camps and condemned buildings and into proper houses.

If you combine these three elements then there must be an easy solution for South Africa: create jobs in the labour-intensive construction and property sectors, use the money allocated by government for infrastructure development to train the people properly and include them in the wealth-creation cycle.

There’s a problem though: the people who are jobless do not want to work — particularly not on a construction site where labour is exacting, tiring and hard.

The OECD report highlights several other issues on the labour front: the difficulty of getting to and from work, the lack of skills, the inadequate schooling system, and so forth. But I think that these objections are little more than pallid excuses. The fundamental issue remains that thousands of jobless people do not want to work unless it is in some cushy job as the boss’s understudy. Oh, yes and unless it comes with a car, fashionable gear and an expense account.

Meanwhile, in similar camps around the country are squadrons of foreign people who have come to South Africa in search of work and have found jobs.

Venture onto any building site and you are bound to find a great many Zimbabwean and Mozambican workers plying their trades efficiently and diligently.

So what do our lot of indigents do? Threaten to kill them and drive them from this land instead. The xenophobes accuse these foreigners of “stealing our jobs and stealing our women” and set upon them in places like Kya Sands.

Well, guess what, South Africans, if you want to work and are prepared to make the sacrifices that being trained may require then you will get and keep your job.

Back to what Doidge says: the construction and property sectors must become more competitive, productive and inclusive. That can only be done if people are prepared to work — and if necessary work for wages that are just above the poverty datum line — in order to gain the skills that allow them to command better wages.

But if we look at the reality of the millions of unemployed the point is that they appear to want an easy way to make money. And the easiest is through crime. Whether it is drug dealing, pimping, hijacking, housebreaking or blowing up automatic teller machines, crime represents a better choice than eight to 10 hours swinging a pick on a building site.

Our layabouts want life to be easy for them because they voted for the ANC, which promised them jobs, a better life and land. What it didn’t promise was that they would have to work hard to get ahead.

And so here we sit with almost 30% of the population unemployed, while we face potential labour shortages in every facet of the property and construction industry.

I reckon the time has finally come for government intervention — and I’m deeply opposed to government intervention in any form. I think that we need to get these lay-abouts out of the camps and into a vast, compulsory labour pool that is akin to the labour market that developed after the Great Depression.

We need to put the layabouts to work on the R800-billion infrastructure projects that will unfold. If they are shovelling tar for the new roads from a wheelbarrow, then so be it. For this is the first step on a path to real freedom.

Enforced labour camps have an unpleasant ring to them, don’t they? Forcing people to take a job, any job, just to get ahead and earn an honest living smacks of a kind of brutality doesn’t it? But what choice is there? The people who can work don’t want to unless it is on their cushy terms. And they are prepared to kill and maim those who are working too.

Otherwise we will face more xenophobic violence and we’ll be left with even more of a labour problem than we currently have.

And our indigent layabouts — who are fuelling and committing their xenophobic acts — will do exactly what they’ve done for the past 16 years.


They’ll still hang around their squatter camps, steal when they can, drink as they choose, rape passing women and children with impunity, and tell everyone else how the government has let them down.

And yet we have a solution at our fingertips: labour-intensive construction projects, intensive training programmes, a massive allocation of capital and an urgent need to create jobs. With those things in place, all we need now is to get the idle unemployed off the streets and back to work. That’s the obvious solution until you factor in the ever-present real problem. The unemployed don’t want to work on anything but their own terms. And there’s the real truth.

— News

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