by Iswamo Kapalu

The joy that the farmer feels when she dines on the fruit of her toil, is the joy that the poet feels when his words perfectly capture the colour of sunset. It is the joy of the bookkeeper when his books balance and the joy of the doctor that accompanies a patient into good health or shepherds him peacefully to the grave. This is the joy of work. It is the joy of a life led with purpose; a life that gives reason to rise with the sun and sigh in relieved union with the earth when the day is done.

While workers shape their work, the work shapes them. The view of people as not only objective workers, but subjects of their work, is emphasised by Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work). Here, the dignity-giving nature of work is recognised in the words:

“Work is a good thing for man (sic) – a good thing for his humanity – because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’”. (Laborem Exercens 9)

In South Africa however, work is a dignity and joy that many never get to know. The unemployment rate, beyond being a highly quotable and extremely political statistic, is the story of millions of South Africans who are robbed of the satisfaction of an honest day’s work. Every South African represented by that statistic is one who did not get the chance to lovingly pour themselves into their work today. While grants and social aid ease the material burden of unemployment, they can never hope to replace the satisfaction and pride that comes out of an honest day of work.

The joy of work in South Africa is also diminished by the exploitation of workers. How can a labourer feel anything other than resentment for his work when it demands his life and rewards him meagrely for his efforts? Work that treats workers merely as a path to profit is a perversion of an otherwise beautiful thing. It takes that which has the potential to fill with joy and contentment and transforms it into a vessel for misery – the end result being work that is done with only half the heart.

If we are to allow ourselves to experience the joy of work we must rid ourselves of the barriers that stand between us and fulfilling work. The sexism that makes the aspirations of the girl-child less legitimate than those of her male counterparts must be deliberately and forcefully rejected. Women who succeed must not be forced to succeed in a man’s world. The racism that premises the success of the black child on his ability to deny himself if he is to succeed at all cannot be allowed to continue. For these things the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of employers.

In creating a country where everyone is allowed the opportunity to work joyfully, there are many barriers to overcome. On those who have, to varying degrees of success, overcome these barriers and are lucky enough to have work, there is still an additional challenge. That challenge is to work joyfully and to do all things with love, even those you don’t love to do. As the artist and poet Khalil Gibran once wrote:

“And what is it to work with love?

It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,

even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

It is to build a house with affection,

even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.

It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,

even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,

And to know that all the blessed dead

are standing about you and watching.”