More than anything else, we are told, SA must create jobs. And the only way is to facilitate the expansion of low-wage, labour-intensive work. Were our labour markets more flexible and our unions less intransigent, it is said, untold numbers of people who are currently idle would have jobs.

Low-wage work is thus painted as SA’s nirvana — it is where the country’s deepest wound will be salved. This may or may not be so. But it does us well to remember that low-wage employment has for many generations provided arenas of resentment, subterfuge and bitterness, arenas in which South Africans go to war. If they are going to salve our deepest wound, we will probably have to do something about that.

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