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