Ethnographies of Accommodation and Resistance
Edited by Rob Lambert and Andrew Herod
Chapter 2: The growth and organization of a precariat: working in the clothing industry in Johannesburg’s inner city
Yau starts his day at 5 a.m. in Orange Farm, where he catches a minibus taxi to go to work in inner-city Johannesburg. Here, amongst fellow Malawian migrants, he sews jackets in one of the small cut, make and trim (CMT) factories. Like many other CMTs housed in the cramped rooms of the dilapidated building where he works, Yau’s CMT is struggling. He makes an average of R400 per week to support his wife and child, R120 of which he uses for transport to and from work. The job does not entitle him to any benefits. Yau hopes that one day he will be able to access loans so that he can buy more material to grow his business. But the enterprise is not registered and it will be difficult for him to obtain a loan. This is the story of many people working in the clothing industry in inner city Johannesburg, where competition is tight and customers are few. Some factory owners reminisce about the heyday of the district, which was once a thriving hub for South Africa’s clothing industry. Previously, large full-package manufacturers (FPMs), which operated the entire manufacturing process of clothing, dominated the industry and provided employment for thousands of machinists. Today, though, FPMs are few and the industry is decentralized, with hundreds of small, unregulated and informal CMTs characterizing production.
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