Beneficiaries’ aspirations to permanent employment within the South African Working for Water Programme

26 February 2013

The South African Working for Water (WfW) programme is a short-term public works programme (PWP) focused on clearing invasive alien plants, while training and empowering the marginalised poor to find employment. Furthermore, it aims to develop independent, entrepreneurial contractors who should ‘exit’ from the programme into the broader labour market. However, evidence indicates that many beneficiaries have become financially dependent on this employment, and find it difficult to search for alternatives. Understanding the reasons for this dependence from the perspective of the beneficiaries of this PWP is crucial to align such projects to the actual needs of the beneficiaries, but these have not yet been considered from a sociological perspective. This article reports on data collected, through face-to-face interviews, on WfW beneficiaries’ aspirations to permanent employment in four projects in the Winelands and Overberg districts of the Western Cape. It presents the novel finding that the social structures within projects themselves seem to create a need to remain in the WfW programme. In addition, a misalignment between these projects’ implementation and beneficiaries’ aspirations to financial stability (associated with permanent employment in WfW) is highlighted. The authors argue that WfW should respond to these aspirations, rather than pursue the ostensibly unrealistic aim of creating independent entrepreneurs. Finally, the implications of these findings for PWPs globally, and their concerns regarding the inadvertent creation of beneficiary dependence, are outlined.