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Wage income, migrant labour and livelihoods beyond the rural-urban divide in post-apartheid South Africa: a case of Dunlop Durban factory workers.

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This thesis investigates the reproduction of the African working class in post-apartheid South Africa. The research examines the relationship between wage income and the mobilisation of livelihoods of working class households across the rural-urban divide. Through an ethnographic study with Dunlop workers, the research examines rural-urban linkages of African workers, interrogating how these linkages are maintained and how they play out in mobilisation and struggles for livelihoods in everyday life. Based on literature on workers and livelihoods in South Africa, the research hypothesis argues that wage income remains the main pillar and source of the reproduction of life and the mobilisation of livelihoods of working class households, both rural and urban. To interrogate these propositions three areas of evidence needed to be developed into key questions: 1. The centrality of wage labour to the mobilisation of livelihoods in extended familial households across the rural-urban divide. 2. Secondly, establishing the degree of these rural-urban linkages and networks and the form they take. 3. Lastly, working life and struggles, and the everyday life of African workers and their household networks. In answering these questions the thesis explores three major arguments. The first argument is that social reproduction, lives and livelihoods of working class South Africans are organised and reorganised across the rural-urban divide. Wage income remains the most important resource in the production, reproduction of the African working class in post-apartheid South Africa. The thesis argues that Dunlop workers have and continue to service dual (and some instances multiple) familial networks across the rural-urban divide. These familial networks are serviced through visits, remittances, the supporting of adult children to find accommodation in the city when looking for employment and through the performance of traditional rituals. The second key argument is that Dunlop‘s institutional production regimes continue to be organised through what I call a racialised ordering and lack of substantive transformation on the shop floor. These precipitate antagonistic relations between workers and management as well as a militant workforce. As a result, despite the contradictions and contestations noted in the literature about trade unions in post-apartheid South Africa (Buhlungu, 2006, 2010; Social Development, 2004, 2006; Kenny, 2004; Seekings, 2004; Seekings and Nattrass, 2002, 2005), workers continue to identify them as their bona fide voice. Shop floor militancy is constructed by invoking the popular history of trade unions and through shop floor socialisation of younger workers by their older familial networks. The third argument is that workers‘ narratives are complex. The thesis explores Sitas‘ (2004a) assertion that the narratives of workers‘ lives and their struggles are not simple, neat, straightforward and predictable, as generalist theorists would argue. Instead, they are complex and articulated with class, race, gender, rural-urban milieu, culture, struggle, violence and identity-making meaning in everyday life.


Ph. D. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2014.


Migrant labor--South Africa., Wages--Effect of labor mobility on--South Africa., Post-apartheid era--South Africa., Rural-urban relations--South Africa., Social security--Cost-of-living adjustments--South Africa., Theses--Industrial, organisational and labour studies.