Pay­ing us all a ba­sic wage – now that’s democ­racy

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

THERE was ma­jor un­hap­pi­ness at the Ma­hogany Ridge that the City of Cape Town got a court or­der to stop the march on the CBD and forced the pro­test­ers to aban­don the demon­stra­tion.

As one of the regulars later put it: “Bug­ger th­ese peo­ple” (only he didn’t say “bug­ger”) “but now there was no ex­cuse for not go­ing to work. There went my long weekend. The bloody ter­ror­ists had won.”

It was per­haps wrong to re­fer to the would-be marchers as such, but emo­tions had been run­ning high all week. Hell and may­hem were com­ing to town. Loot­ing and de­struc­tion of pri­vate prop­erty was vir­tu­ally guar­an­teed, along with block­ades on the ma­jor high­ways and flung poo ev­ery­where.

Such was the con­cern that a group of “prom­i­nent Capeto­ni­ans” re­leased a state­ment slam­ming at­tempts by ac­tivists to “pro­mote a cli­mate of hate” and desta­bilise the prov­ince through vi­o­lent protests.

In fact, so prom­i­nent were th­ese cit­i­zens – they in­cluded Arch­bishop Emer­i­tus Des­mond Tutu and Arch­bishop Thabo Mak­goba along with all the other usual sus­pects – that Cosatu’s pro­vin­cial leader, Tony Ehren­re­ich, was moved to de­scribe them as “great peo­ple” in a state­ment all of his own.

Mind you, not ev­ery­one was “great”. As Ehren­re­ich pointed out, there were “the oth­ers who have al­ways been com­fort­able with the apartheid gen­er­a­tional dis­ad­van­tages in South Africa. They all speak about the threat to our democ­racy when a march goes wrong or peo­ple throw fae­ces. They sel­dom speak with the same power and au­thor­ity about the threat posed to our democ­racy by the huge and grow­ing in­equal­i­ties and des­per­ate un­der­de­vel­op­ment.

“The peo­ple who protest are, in the main, des­per­ate cit­i­zens who feel that they are not be­ing shown any re­gard – not just through nice-sound­ing words, but in ac­tual de­liv­ery to their ba­sic needs.”

How com­fort­ing to be la­belled an un­car­ing per­son be­cause you don’t want to be show­ered in chem­i­cally treated runny mat­ter. Thanks a bunch, Tony. It’s like be­ing called a racist be­cause you’re con­cerned that your rather sim­ple pres­i­dent ap­pears to have been led up the (very ex­pen­sive) gar­den path by a wily ar­chi­tect vis-àvis ren­o­va­tions to the coun­try home. But no mat­ter. We must move on. The Swiss – those yo­delling Euro­peans – have had a wizard idea, one that we should copy at once if we are to help des­per­ate cit­i­zens.

Switzer­land is to vote on whether to in­tro­duce a ba­sic monthly in­come from the state of 2 500 Swiss francs (about R28 250) for all adult cit­i­zens. Ev­ery­one gets it, ir­re­spec­tive of whether you’re em­ployed or not, no strings at­tached.

No date has been set for the ref­er­en­dum. But Switzer­land does this sort of thing a lot. Un­der Swiss law, cit­i­zens can or­gan­ise pop­u­lar ini­tia­tives that al­low the chan­nelling of pub­lic anger into di­rect po­lit­i­cal ac­tion.

In this case, all that the Ba­sic In­come Ini­tia­tive – as they’ve called them­selves – needed was 100 000 or more sig­na­tures, Which they got rather eas­ily, we’d imag­ine, given the rage at pay in­equal­ity in the cur­rent fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

Then the or­gan­i­sa­tion col­lected 8 mil­lion five-cent coins – one for each cit­i­zen – and, us­ing a truck, dumped them in a square out­side the Swiss par­lia­ment in Berne when they handed over their pe­ti­tion early last month.

Well, “dumped” is per­haps too un­ruly a term. Be­ing Swiss, they care­fully tipped them out of the truck and then neatly spread them across the square in an or­derly fash­ion.

Ac­cord­ing to news re­ports, there is a lot of sup­port for the ini­tia­tive. One econ­o­mist sug­gested that the idea of a ba­sic in­come was one that united both left- and right-wingers – al­though it has lit­tle sup­port in the main­stream.

Of course, there was the dan­ger that no­body would work. Cer­tainly, very few South Africans would if you gave them R28 000 a month.

But what if our ba­sic in­come was more mod­est? If it was, let’s say, R8 000 a month, then most peo­ple would want to sup­ple­ment that. Even a low-pay­ing, part-time job would at least en­sure a de­cent stan­dard of liv­ing. One with proper toi­lets.

There is another way of look­ing at this: tech­nol­ogy will make large num­bers of peo­ple un­em­ploy­able in sec­tors such as min­ing and agri­cul­ture in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture.

So we’re go­ing to need an eco­nomic sys­tem that will han­dle loads of peo­ple do­ing noth­ing all day.

In this, like many white males of my ilk, I feel I am some­thing of a pi­o­neer. It’s time the state re­warded me for my con­tri­bu­tion to the food chain.

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