Why Work? Do We Understand What Motivates Work-Related Decisions in South Africa?
Why do people work? In South Africa, where over 50 per cent of working age adults do not have jobs, this question drives to the heart of efforts to encourage employers to create jobs and workers to persist in costly job searches. Much scholarship on unemployment focuses on getting wages right, but employers and employees cite many non-monetary reasons for their employment-related decisions. Popular discourses have over-simplified and moralised work-related decisions to reinforce problematic stereotypes about supposed 'lazy' workers. This article analyses ethnographic fieldwork in peri-urban KwaZulu-Natal to identify a category of motivations for work-related decisions that both employers and employees emphasised: 'right' relationships. By identifying differences between the two groups' moralities of appropriate relationships, and the factors inhibiting each group from achieving such relationships, this article points to causes of and potential cures for high unemployment as well as racial, ethnic, and class tensions that infuse discussions of unemployment. This article offers new ways of thinking about employment that move beyond minimum wage adjustments, job-creation incentives for employers, and skills training for would-be workers by identifying motivating factors that are too often ignored.