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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


SCHENCK, Rinie  e  BLAAUW, Derick. Day labourers: A case study of the vulnerability of the social fabric and cohesion in South Africa's informal economy. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2018, vol.58, n.1, pp.36-55. ISSN 2224-7912.

The concepts social fabric and social cohesion refer to complex and interdependent systems that exist in a community. Social cohesion includes aspects such as the level ofrespect people have for each other, people's experiences of belonging, identification with the community, identity, their experiences of social justice, and participation. Social cohesion is further evident in the extent that people are accepting each other, taking responsibility for themselves and others and providing safety and security. South Africa's political and racially-based history and the current high poverty and inequality do not provide a conducive context for a cohesive society. This is evident in the high prevalence of poverty, unemployment, crime, substance dependency and the neglect and abuse of women and children. Facilitating a socially cohesive society is high on the agenda of the current government, but the current policy frameworks and institutional structures cannot create a socially cohesive society. Failing to create a socially cohesive South African society is evident in the more than 50 000 day labourers who are standing on the street corners of our cities and towns daily, with the hope to access a job and an income for the day. Day labourers are unemployed people, mostly men, making a living by selling their labour and skills on the street corners of South African cities and towns. The growing number of day labourers who make a living in the informal economy is a clear indication that South Africa cannot absorb the unemployed in the formal economy. In particular, South Africa is unable to accommodate the low-skilled and uneducated labourers in the formal labour market. To make a living and survive in the informal economy imply an insecure existence. The aim of the article is to describe the socio-economic profile of the 3 830 day labourers interviewed during the first national study in South Africa as a case study that illustrates the vulnerability of the social cohesion and social fabric of poor families and communities surviving in the informal economy. The national study was implemented in two phases. The first phase lasted approximately two years, which were spent travelling throughout South Africa to determine on which street corners and open spaces the day labourers are standing in the cities and towns of South Africa. This reconnaissance phase of the study resulted in the estimation that there are at least 50 000 day labourers occupying street corners of South African towns and cities daily. The second, or fieldwork, phase of the research consisted of the completion of3 830 interviews with day labourers throughout South Africa during 2007 and 2008. In this phase, the authors developed the survey instrument, recruited field workers, provided appropriate training and tested the questionnaire. This was followed by the sampling, where a combination of cluster and snowball sampling was used to proportionally represent the research population. A representative sample of approximately 9% enabled meaningful statistical analysis. All ethical principles were adhered to. The questionnaires were completed with the assistance of well-trained fieldworkers who were fluent in the languages spoken by the day labourers. The results of the study show that, given the high unemployment rate and slow economic growth in South Africa, the informal economy and day labouring are here to stay and should be supported with relevant facilitating policies and institutions/structures. Day labouring is furthermore a survivalist strategy and it implies an irregular income. It became clear that the day labourers in general have very low education and skills levels and will not be able to access formal labour in the current economic climate. Day labourers are the result of a vulnerable socially exclusive society. It will remain in an increasingly vulnerable exclusive society if not addressed through the implementation of policies and practices that will enhance social cohesion and strengthen the social fabric of the South African society.

Palavras-chave : Day labourers; informal economy; social fabric; social cohesion; unemployment; poverty; informal employment; migrants; survival; vulnerability; food insecurity.

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