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Article Summary

Miraftab, Faranak. 2004. Neoliberalism and Casualization of Public Sector Services: The Case of Waste Collection Services in Cape Town, South Africa, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 28(4): 874-892.

In this article on Cape Towns privatization of waste collection services, Miraftab argues that the vestiges of apartheid can be found in new government efforts to empower black women as municipal housekeepers. Within this case study, she outlines the ways in which short-term contracts, volunteerism and community-based campaigns have exploited and further casualized poor black women in the labor force. As a part of neoliberal policies under South Africas Growth Employment and Reconstruction Program (GEAR), administrative units were deployed to unify service provision, ultimately consolidating the number of municipalities. However, there was simultaneously a critical decline in state funding to local municipalities, leaving cities with little capacity to distribute services in the reconfigured districts. Government strategies to address these challenges included contracting and outsourcing to private agencies in the hope of finding cost savings. In doing so, the government has perpetuated the structural disparities between affluent white communities and black townships.

To serve the newly incorporated low-income areas, Cape Town began privatizing waste collection to community-based organizations. Our authors first example, TEDCOR, formed as a public-private partnership that collected fees from local municipalities and hired workers from the unemployed population. Originally thought to be an economic development strategy, Miraftab illustrates that these schemes ultimately failed to provide any empowerment or job creation and instead relied on shorter and more vulnerable contracts than would be supplied by the government service sector. Other strategies, such as the Masicoce scheme, relied on community-based action to promote one-person waste collecting contracts. In this instance, one-year contracts provided substandard salaries and benefits for the female workforce. As the government was not under any obligation to lengthen contracts or match wages to meet levels paid to other municipal waste collectors, local resistance did little to change the quality of these employment relationships. Community-based volunteer efforts the third strategy - focused primarily on the most economically vulnerable, appealing to very poor women looking for access to Reconstruction and Development Programs forums and formalized work.

Next, Miraftab examines these cases with a focus on delinking local government and labor, the uneven distribution of public services, and the significance of this case for gendered divisions of labor and subjugation. For our author, the casualization of the workforce freed the government from more stringent labor regulations and, consequently, eliminated the bargaining power of these empowered women. Miraftab notes the disparate concentration of government-provided services in affluent white communities, as compared to those devolved to local volunteers in black townships. She remarks that government efforts to rectify apartheid have treated citizens as no more than consumers. Ironically, through municipal restructuring, the hope of consolidation and redistribution via privatization has resulted in the further stratifying of society.

Tracing back to the City Beautiful movement, Miraftab notes the historical participation of women in waste collection, extending their moral obligations as good mothers and housekeepers to the city streets. In this sense, the rhetoric supporting these schemes created a moral and gendered justification for exploitative work. Miraftab unpacks these slogans to illustrate the perverse ways privatization has taken great advantage of the unpaid work of South Africas most vulnerable population. Under the guise of expanding services to black townships and training women (who admittedly had no marketplace to sell their new skills), the municipal government has casualized labor and undermined true efforts at redistributive strategies. Miraftabs optic provides somewhat of a lens through which to view the post-apartheid reproduction of poverty and the spatial settings of gendered work.