Pedagogical Case Study: Creating jobs and responsibilizing households in South African Waste Management
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Over the last decade, all spheres of government in South Africa have launched programmes that seek to reframe waste not as a burden but rather as an economic opportunity, a form of decent work, and a civic duty. From voluntary cleanups to public employment programmes to local entrepreneurship support schemes, waste is promoted as an emerging economy laden with financial value as well as a site for community pride and responsibility. In spite of these purported benefits, questions over job security (e.g. precarious contracts or sudden programme cancellations) and working conditions (e.g. health and safety equipment and adequate compensation) frequently accompany such programmes. This pedagogical case study describes and analyzes existing mechanisms that are attempting to reframe waste as an opportunity, while asking students to reflect more generally on the normative value of work in the waste sphere. We describe several prevailing types of schemes for creating community labour within the South African waste economy and focus on the interface of job creation ambitions at the national level with municipal obligations to manage waste. Additionally, we highlight projects whose aim is to create more responsibility for waste at the household or community level. Given the purportedly low cost of entry into the waste economy and low skill levels required for much of the work, state officials increasingly see waste work as a target for job creation ambitions. The low profit margins of the industry can complicate this, however, and opportunities in the private sector can often be overstated. Additionally, the nature of some of the work in the industry can raise questions about what sort of work should be encouraged, as much waste work is low-paid and unpleasant, offering very little opportunities for advancement or a secure livelihood.