By Tarryn Frankish Globally, the question of how to deal with the ‘dirty business’ of keeping things clean remains pertinent. In this blog I look to South Africa for insight into these questions as strikes around the globe by cleaning staff force us to think about the politics and ethics of keeping things clean elsewhere.
As a Desmond Tutu scholar, working at the Vrije University in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa I have the unique opportunity of spending time in two countries as I work towards my doctoral degree. My first trip to Amsterdam coincided with a strike by cleaning services in May 2010. More recently, as I was leaving Amsterdam in February 2012, the working conditions of cleaning staff were again in question. This question resonates with what I have come to know in South Africa. Striking similarities in the way ‘cleaning’ is organised in the Netherlands and South Africa became apparent to me during my stays despite the contextual differences between the two countries, wherein cleaning work is performed and negotiated. The situation in South Africa (and some of the similarities witnessed in Amsterdam) suggests much for thinking about the politics and ethics of keeping things clean in a global context.