Why would young Black South African men refuse low wage jobs in a time of mass joblessness? This paper takes up this question by examining the work histories and decisions of young men in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It argues that the refusal of low-wage jobs is at once a critique of precariousness and racialized inequality, and a political demand for social and economic inclusion. The paper maintains that voluntary quitting is a relatively unrecognised form of worker resistance, with implications for how we understand labour market volatility, and the place of wage labour in South Africa’s policy debates and politics.

Hannah J. Dawson is a Senior Researcher at the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies (SCIS) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Her research focuses on questions of unemployment, labour, gender, citizenship and new forms of social welfare, with a focus on South Africa. At SCIS she is part of the  Future of Work(ers) project that is examining how digital technologies are shaping the way the future of work is being imagined – and transformed – in the global South.