Please, don’t do it by yourself – it’s a job for someone else.

This is not the way I learned it at home, neither in my private nor my professional life.

I was taught early to put clean sheets on my bed, to wash the dishes, to do grocery shopping, to cook, and other domestic tasks. Later, I learned to park a car in a narrow parking lot, fill the tank of a car, take care of my bike, to not leave my waste behind, and put it where it belongs, and countless other things of daily life. In my job, I was taught that economic efficiency is keeping personal costs as low as possible. Even though I do not agree with that approach, I know the concept. I was socialized to be independent, to behave respectfully towards people and objects alike. I was taught to behave as I wanted others to treat me.

In South Africa this is different.

I constantly see people working in jobs that do not exist as paying jobs in Switzerland: these tasks are undertaken by consumers, for example, or by a machine. Here, tasks such as weighing fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, packing shopped items in bags at the cashier, filling tanks, washing windshields, giving directions when parking cars, cleaning the edges of roads with a broom, collecting waste, and a lot more are undertaken by individual people. Furthermore, I see domestic helps in almost every household. They wash dishes, wash and iron clothes, clean the toilet, walk the dogs – basically, they do all domestic tasks. And at last, I also see many people sitting by the roadside every morning in hope that someone will fetch them for a job for the day.

When I arrived in South Africa, I did not want to be part of this. The first two days, I gently refused all these services and explained that I preferred to do it on my own. Instead of being respected for this, I earned insult and was questioned if I had not been happy with the service before. This was not what I had expected and not intended, either. I shared my experiences with my local roommates. Their reaction was short and clarifying: Please, don’t do it by yourself – It’s a job for someone else. I accepted that response and changed my behavior insofar as I let people do their jobs but treated them very respectfully. However, I didn’t agree with the prevalent social order.

A local colleague told me a few days later that there are regular jobs in South Africa for 47% of the population of working age. In return, there are more than 40% unemployed. It is the government’s task and goal to create as many jobs as possible to reduce unemployment, increase welfare and most importantly, decrease poverty and inequality. I did not verify these statements but even if it only shows the current socio-economic situation, it is a challenge for the government, the private sector, and every individual alike.

The legacy of colonialism, and later Apartheid, is huge in Southern Africa, foremost in South Africa. It crosses all layers of society. Since my talk with that colleague, a new encounter, a news broadcast, a new venue, or even an academic result in an economics class can help me to perceive the job reality in South Africa more clearly. Job creation is not only to let people earn their living, but is also relevant from a political, social, and psychological perspective.

I have been in South Africa for six weeks now. I am accustomed to daily life. I can use my energy and gained knowledge more and more to build my own opinion about real, created, and non-existing jobs on the South African labor market. Upon my return home, whichever my opinion about the impact of the government’s efforts to improve the economy will be, and whether these efforts have a positive effect on individuals and society, I will continue to understand and respect the statement “Please, don’t do it by yourself – it’s a job for someone else.”

Karin Kälin

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