The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Saranel Benjamin

Nationality: South African

Year of entry: 2012


I have been working in the development sector for the past 20 years with the last 8 years as a development consultant. Most of my work has been in the Southern African region where I have been providing organisational support to the non-profit sector to build their capacity to be more effective and efficient in their practice. 

I have also worked with international donor institutions including Save the Children UK, War on Want, Comic Relief, Child Hope UK, Atlantic Philanthropies, Oxfam Novib and Oxfam Australia, the International Labour Organisation and the Embassy of Finland. Much of my work has included conducting reviews, evaluations and monitoring of projects, programmes and organisations’ capacity as well as facilitation of workshops, materials development, strategic planning and developing systems including monitoring and evaluation systems. I have also assisted organisations with their research projects to enhance their advocacy, lobbying and policy development.

Research information

Title: The Worker-Citizen: Explorations of Embodied Precariousness in the South African Countryside

Keywords: Work, citizenship, precariousness, embodiment, affect, South Africa, postcolonial, farm workers, post-apartheid

Abstract: The research sets out to contest the current narrowly defined “worker-citizen”. The current changes in the nature of work are challenging the concept of the “worker-citizen” calling into question its validity in contemporary times. However, despite the changes in work, the concept is still being used by nation-states and civil society to signify inclusion, belonging and a life free from poverty, vulnerability and marginality. In reality the worker-citizen has failed to guarantee any of these as more workers globally are becoming more precarious. 

The debates on precarious work have been focused on the technical description of work and fail to take into account the precarious lives created as a result of this. Also, the debate on precarious work makes certain assumptions one of which is that all formal, waged work is secure and stable. This study aims to dispute this by highlighting the case of low waged farm workers in South Africa. Focusing on deciduous fruit and wine farms in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, the study will bring to the fore the messy and complex nature of work that challenges the current narrow definition of the worker-citizen. It will do this against the backdrop of South Africa’s apartheid experience with work and citizenship to show why the discourse and practice of the worker-citizen was important for the African worker. However, the failure of the worker-citizen to deliver a life free from poverty, vulnerability and marginality is creating precariousness in the lives of workers, especially that of farm workers. 

The narrowness of the debates on precarious work is stultifying trade union responses which are narrowly focused on purely trade union issues. This study, by showing how precariousness is felt in the body as affect and as a lived experience, will help to broaden the understanding of precariousness and thereby advance a theory of precariousness that captures the encounter between precarious work and the precarious lives its creates.

Main Supervisor: Colin Marx
Subsidiary Supervisor: Caren Levy

Funding: Lipman Miliband Trust’s Irene Breugel Fund 

Publications and other work

Saranel Benjamin (2012), “Joining Forces for the Poor: Alliance Building for Social Justice in South Africa and the story of the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices”. Atlantic Philanthropies.

Saranel Benjamin and Tom Lebert, T. (2011), “Meeting their Mandates? The Research Report on the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF) and the National Development Agency (NDA)”. Funding Practice Alliance (FPA). Cape Town. South Africa

Saranel Benjamin (2010), “The Feminisation of Poverty: A story told by the women of Bayview”, in Gender and Globalisation: Patterns of Women’s Resistance (edited by Ligaya Lindio-McGovern and Erica G.Polakoff), De Sitter Publications (www.desitterpublications.com/GenderandGlobalization.html)

Saranel Benjamin (2007), “Nature, causes and consequences of children scavenging on dumpsites and landfill sites in South Africa”, International Labour Organisation

Saranel Benjamin (2007), “Children of a Lesser God: Durban’s Legacy of Poverty”, Pambazuka: Issue 286 (www.pambazuka.org)

Saranel Benjamin (2004), “Reclaiming the Voices of Dissent : Social Movements challenging contemporary forms of public participation”, Critical Dialogue: Vol 1 Nos 2, Centre for Public Participation

Saranel Benajmin (2004), “We are not Indians! We are the Poors!” : Investigating Race Class and Gender in Social Movements”, Development Update: Vol 5 Nos 2