Prof Derick Blaauw reports from the field:
From 13 to 16 September 2016 Derick Blaauw joined Prof Rinie Schenck of the Department of Social Work at UWC in East London where fieldwork continued on their NRF funded joint research project on day labourers in South Africa. They were joined by 6 field workers, recruited from graduates of the Department of Social work at NMMU and the University of Fort Hare as well as the University of the Western Cape. The Tuesday was spent on training and fieldwork commenced on the Wednesday. More than 150 interviews were held with day labourers across the city during the week. The fieldwork itself brought important ethical issues as well as the theme of social justice to the fore.
At one of the hiring sites, around 15 men said: ”we cannot talk if we are hungry”. They did not want to participate in the research project. We of course respected their view and did not attempt to solicit their involvement in any way. This represents a dilemma on two fronts. It highlights the inherent difficulty of research among vulnerable groups in the South African society. On a personal level it highlights the issue of ethics in research. Many of the respondents begged for money to buy food. Can we be left untouched by the poverty we observe? But what one is to do is the issue. One simply cannot provide money or food to one day labourer and not to the others. You will create an enormously difficult and volatile situation. As researchers we must bear the responsibility of objectivity on the one hand and the need to translate research results into tangible actions to improve the lives of the marginalized.
What do researchers do in terms of economic justice? Stories came to the fore that employers let day labourers work for days or up to 11 weeks and then payment is withheld. Very little recourse is available. The Small Claims Court requires a summons to be delivered and the Sherriff costs money which they do not have. There is a role for NGOs and worker centers here perhaps to act as mediator in order for some form of social justice and recourse for this vulnerable group. We believe that in facilitating such an endeavour the results can indeed be translated into something that makes a difference in the lives of these people. Watch this space.