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Maria's Burden: Contract Cleaning and the Crisis of Social Reproduction in Post‐apartheid South Africa

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The life of Maria Dlamini, a contract cleaner at the University of the Witwatersrand, is used to explore continuities and discontinuities between the apartheid labour regime and the neoliberal, post‐apartheid order in South Africa. As South African institutions have adopted neoliberal market strategies, the growth in the contracting‐out of cleaning has intensified work and reduced wages and benefits for many workers. Significantly, as was the case with the migrant labor system under apartheid, it has also increasingly displaced the burden of social reproduction onto the households and communities of the working poor. Whereas the racial spatial order under apartheid was dictated by national‐level political decisions, through use of the concept of “boundary drawing”, we show how the language of the market justifies new exclusions based upon the micro‐politics of the “rational” restructuring of institutions such as universities.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Sociology of Work Unit, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits, South Africa; ;, Email:

Publication date: 2006-06-01

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